Reville: New Harvard Report Recommends Creating a Personalized ‘Support Plan’ for Every Child. Here Are 5 Places to Start

Kate Stringer

What if every child had a personalized plan to help him or her thrive? At the Education Redesign Lab, housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, we’re exploring the potential of customized plans — what we call Success Plans.

In our new report, Success Plans: Promising Tools for Customizing Student Supports and Opportunities, we examine 13 organizations and agencies across the country, in communities ranging from Oakland, California, to Denver and Boston, that are implementing different types of plans to support children and youth — from preschool and kindergarten age to high school. As part of the report, we offer recommendations for communities interested in developing and implementing personalized Success Plans of their own, and we created a practical toolkit as a road map to guide stakeholders in this work.

Success Plans are digital records for capturing the full range of students’ strengths and needs, both in and out of school. Such plans are a promising strategy for bringing together schools, government agencies and community-based providers, such as afterschool programs, health care centers and counseling services, to ensure all children have what they need to thrive. Growing research suggests that comprehensive approaches involving the use of personalized plans can substantially improve children’s lives. While limited information is available on the cost-effectiveness of personalized plans, initial studies are encouraging and show that comprehensive approaches have a positive return on investment.

In addition to these outcomes, our research shows that personalized plans are primarily being implemented through an approach in which schools create plans to identify students’ strengths and needs and use that information to match them with various supports. According to our findings, the organizations and agencies featured in our report are deploying personalized plans as a strategy to promote equity and access by addressing the significant barriers facing marginalized youth and connecting them to supports and opportunities so they can thrive. Key challenges include building the capacity of educators, community partners and other stakeholders to develop and implement personalized plans, as well as establishing cross-sector relationships, providing sufficient resources (human, fiscal, etc.) and ensuring data privacy.

Some organizations are already using comprehensive plans that target children and youth’s strengths and needs both in and out of school, while others are developing different types of personalized plans with more specific goals. At the Education Redesign Lab, we’re collaborating with our seven community partners, including Chattanooga-Hamilton County, Tennessee; the struggling suburbs of Chicago and the Southland in Illinois; Louisville, Kentucky; Oakland; Providence, Rhode Island; and Salem and Somerville, Massachusetts, in the By All Means initiative to help them integrate Success Plans into their efforts to support children and families, which integrate social, emotional and health services with education.

Based on our research, we’ve identified the following key recommendations for implementing Success Plans:

● Create a cross-sector governance/management structure.

ဝ Utilize an existing structure or create a new structure (such as a children’s cabinet, a mechanism for coordinating child and youth services that our By All Means partners use) that includes representatives from education, social services and other sectors who can address issues from birth through the postsecondary years.

ဝ Identify specific roles and responsibilities for each member and, on an ongoing basis, identify specific action items.

● Establish networks of support.

ဝ Build on existing support structures in schools, districts and communities to create formal networks that include all adults who are committed to supporting children and youth.

● Designate community, district and/or school coordinators to facilitate the development and implementation of plans.

ဝ Identify individuals — either existing or new staff members, as resources permit — who will be responsible for coordinating processes for developing and implementing personalized plans.

● Use digital tools that adhere to strict data security practices.

ဝ Identify priorities and needs related to data collection, management, analysis and protection during the early stages of work.

ဝ Create memoranda of understanding or other agreements among involved parties and create clear processes and protocols for data use and sharing to ensure the security and confidentiality of student data.

● Embed equity and access in every aspect of the work.

ဝ Ensure that personalized plans recognize young people’s skills and strengths and celebrate the racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic and other backgrounds of children and youth and their families.

ဝ Provide ongoing professional learning and development opportunities to educators, community providers and others engaged in this work to increase their cultural competency and address unintended biases.

ဝ Ensure that governance and management structures at the school, district and community levels include a diverse group of representatives, perspectives and expertise.

ဝ Conduct analyses of disaggregated data to monitor the impact of plans and services provided on multiple outcomes.

As our By All Means partners develop and implement Success Plans in their local communities, we look forward to sharing both successes and challenges with the broader field.

Paul Reville is the Francis Keppel Professor of Practice of Policy and Administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he is the founding director of the Education Redesign Lab. He is a former Massachusetts secretary of education.

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