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My First Semester as a CIS Project Manager

Alfi Thazhathel is a new Project Manager serving in Crowley ISD.

I joined Communities In Schools in fall of 2013 as a Project Manager, eager to begin my career in Social Work, especially working with students at a school.

The training sessions were intense–it seemed like there was so much information to absorb! My fellow co-workers encouraged me along the way, reassuring me and empowering me as I moved toward my first day working inside the school.

On my first day at North Crowley 9th Grade Campus, I was introduced to the school staff, a friendly group who welcomed me with open arms. I truly enjoy working with each and every staff member. They make me feel as if I am making a difference and a vital part of the school’s team. Similarly, the students at the school are very respectful and understand that I am there to help them succeed. In just a short time, we have developed strong relationships–they view me as someone who is always there for them.

Even in a short time, there have been many successes to celebrate.  I have coordinated school-wide events, class field trips, and other activities for the students. I have provided effective individual services and case management, with many students showing improvements in grades, attendance, and behavior. Low self-esteem and anger are prevalent at my school, and group sessions with students who struggle in these areas are already proving very successful at addressing the issues.

As with any job, there are some challenges, mainly paperwork! It can be difficult to keep up with intense documentation as time flies by each day. However, a critical part of the CIS model is accountability and tracking the effective and performance outcomes of our program. Student data allows us to analyze our practices, improve where needed, and monitor students’ progress throughout the year. Another challenge is finding adequate time to meet with the students, to provide them with the in-depth support we desire for them. We are constantly trying to strike a balance between providing them with the support they need for individual or group sessions without interrupting classroom time.

Despite the challenges, I truly enjoy going to work every day. I can see the difference I am making. Seeing students come in to my office with a frown and leaving with a smile truly makes my day. The dream I had of making a difference in the lives of young people is slowly coming true. I am thankful to be a part of the CIS team.

Alfi J. Thazhathel, LMSW


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Nonprofits Need Unbiased Assessment

We recently came across a blog that discusses the importance of charities being evaluated by an independent source rather than conducting self-evaluations. Communities In Schools is proud to be an organization that regularly undergoes outside evaluation. Our data is verified every school year by third parties, including the official records of each school and the Texas Education Agency. We rely on this data validation to confirm that our programs are effective, and that we are having a positive impact on students.

We have included the Stanford Social Innovation Review article “Most Charities Shouldn’t Evaluate Their Work: Part Two” below. To access the full article, click the link at the bottom of this blog post.

Most Charities Shouldn’t Evaluate Their Work: Part Two

 So what should happen if no one has properly evaluated an idea yet? If it’s important, an independent and suitably skilled researcher should evaluate it in enough detail and in enough contexts for other charities and donors to rely on the findings. The leading medical journal The Lancet cites a tenet of good clinical research: “Ask an important question, and answer it reliably.

A countercultural implication follows from this. It’s often said that the evaluation of a grant should be proportionate to the size of the grant. It’s also often said that evaluations should be proportionate to the size of the charities. We can see now that both views are wrong. The aim of an evaluation is to provide a reliable answer to an important question. From there, the amount worth spending on an evaluation is proportionate to the size of the knowledge gap and the scale of the programs that might use the answer.

To illustrate, suppose a small company has developed a new drug for breast cancer. The “first-in-(wo)man studies,” as they’re called, involve only a few people, for obvious safety reasons. Relative to the cost of dispensing the drug to those few women, how much should the company spend on evaluating the effect on them? The answer is “a lot,” because the answer is important for many people. So the cost of the “pilot” is irrelevant. So too is the size of the company running the “pilot.” Often, the cost of robustly evaluating a program will exceed the cost of delivering that program—which is fine, if the results are useful to a wide audience.

Conflicted out

So not only are most charities unskilled at evaluations—and we wouldn’t want them to be—but also we wouldn’t want most charities to evaluate their own work even if they could. Despite their deep understanding of their work, charities are the worst people imaginable to evaluate it because they’re the protagonists. They’re selling. They’re conflicted. Hence, it’s hardly surprising that the Paul Hamlyn Foundation study found “some, though relatively few, instances of outcomes being reported with little or no evidence to back this up.”

I’m not saying that charities are corrupt or evil. It’s just unreasonable—possibly foolish—to expect that people can be impartial about their own work, salaries, or reputations. As a charity CEO, I’ve seen how “impact assessment” and fundraising are co-mingled: Charities are encouraged to parade their self-generated impact data in fundraising applications. No prizes for guessing what happens to self-generated impact data that isn’t flattering.

To my knowledge, nobody’s ever examined the effect of this self-reporting among charities. But they have in medicine, where independent studies produce strikingly different results to those produced by the protagonists. Published studies funded by pharmaceutical companies are four times more likely to give results favorable to the company than are independent studies. It’s thought that around half of all clinical trial results are unpublished, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which half that might be.

Who should do evaluations?

Skilled and independent researchers, such as academics, should normally take on evaluation of ideas. They should be funded independently and as a public good, such that charities, donors, and others can access them to decide which ideas to use.

For the full blog visit http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/most_charities_shouldnt_evaluate_their_work1  


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Report to the Community Recap

Communities In Schools’ 7th annual Report to the Community Breakfast took place on Tuesday, February 5th at The Woman’s Club of Fort Worth. CIS was delighted to share program outcomes with key stakeholders, confirming that their investments are yielding a positive return in the lives of thousands of Tarrant County students. Guests heard a detailed report of the stay-in-school and graduation outcomes for the past school year as well as personal accounts from students served by the program.       

CIS has a strong track record of successfully keeping at-risk students in school and providing them the support they need to graduate. The CIS “report card” from the 2011-2012 school year can be found at http://www.cistarrant.org/about/results. A few key outcomes include:

  • Total Students Served in 38 Schools……………………23,297
  • Intensively Managed Students……………………………3,307

Of those students receiving intensive case management:

  • Stay in School Rate: 98%
  • Improved behavior: 95%
  • Graduation Rate: 95%
  • Post Secondary School: 76%

These results confirm the effectiveness of the CIS program. Proof also lies in the personal accounts from students who have worked intensely with CIS social workers, resulting in positive life changes. At the Report to the Community Breakfast, students Emahni Holliday and Christine Thompson shared how CIS intervention has transformed their lives.

Emahni Holliday is a student at Central Junior High School. Emahni has experienced many trials that would be difficult for any child to overcome. At a young age Emahni found herself beginning to act out both at school and at home. Emahni explains she felt “angry” almost all of the time, and eventually she started abusing drugs. It seemed as if no one could correct the path she was on. Emahni then met her CIS social worker and things took a turn for the better. She developed a relationship with her social worker that allowed her to start connecting with those around her, including her Assistant Principal. Then this past Thanksgiving, Emahni’s older brother passed away. In a situation where she would usually react with anger and misbehavior, Emahni has been able to work through her anger and sadness in a healthy way with the help of her CIS social worker and others with whom she has begun to develop relationships. Those around Emahni have noticed the change in her and her future has begun to look very bright. 

Christine Thompson is a senior at Azle High School. Christine’s father operated a meth lab in her house when she was only 6 years old. Her father would leave her and her older brother at home to go on drug deals, and even at such a young age Christine knew she was living a nightmare. After Christine developed a rare lung condition from the fumes of the meth lab, her father was arrested and charged with drug possession, a controlled lab, and two counts of child endangerment. Afterward, Christine was placed into the custody of her mother and step-father and things seemed to be improving. Christine entered high school with a positive attitude, she made the honor roll and was even a member of the school marching band. Things were looking good until she learned her father had passed away. Christine had trouble coping with the devastating news, and her grades slipped as she gave up on her dream of going to college and becoming a nurse. However, it was then Christine was introduced to CIS, a program that she says has “change her life forever.” Christine developed a relationship with her CIS social worker, Ms. Haas, which was a blessing, especially when Christine’s mother was soon thereafter arrested for drug possession. Feeling hurt and betrayed, Christine was able to turn to her social worker, Ms. Haas, to help her through her grief and depression.  Christine pushed through yet another trial in her life, improved her grades, set goals, and was recently accepted to Lubbock Christian University with an academic scholarship to study nursing.

 

If you would like to see more success stories you can visit our website at http://www.cistarrant.org/success-stories.

Whatever It Takes

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Communities In Schools consistently proves its willingness to do “whatever it takes” to help students stay in school and achieve in life, both inside and outside the classroom. CIS provides necessities like food and soap to improve students’ home life, as well as new clothes and shoes to increase their self-confidence. We provide school supplies, books and tutoring to foster academic success, and moral support and guidance to help students succeed in life. Communities In Schools understands and truly does “whatever it takes” to make dreams come alive.

Hear the stories. See for yourself.


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Fiscal conservatives seek more state budget cuts

By Chuck Lindell

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Published: 9:36 p.m. Tuesday, March 20, 2012

An improving economy may be lifting some pressure from a strained state budget, but an influential coalition of fiscal conservatives gathered Tuesday at the Capitol to press for additional cuts to government spending.

Much of the $15 billion in budget cuts implemented during last year’s contentious legislative session were one-time accounting gimmicks that are no longer available and merely delayed costs until the next budget fight begins in the 2013 session, said Talmadge Heflin, a former state representative and fiscal policy director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Legislators must begin working now, he said, to form a smaller government that requires no new tax money or other revenue.

“We’ve been looking at writing the budget, at funding state government, as a math issue. And now is the time when we have to start looking at it as a governance issue,” Heflin said.

The coalition, Texans for a Conservative Budget, worked during last year’s budget debate to fight tax increases and keep the state’s rainy day fund intact amid a massive budget shortfall due largely to the economic recession.

This time around, the coalition is recommending that state agencies, colleges and universities cut at least 3 percent from their 2013 budgets, estimated to save $1.1 billion, and 7 percent from their 2014-15 budgets for savings of $8 billion to $10 billion.

Some recommendations were broad: cut overregulation, reduce social-welfare spending, shift transportation money from rail to other congestion-relieving projects.

Specific cuts were suggested as well, such as eliminating funding for eight agencies, offices or boards, including the Commission on the Arts and Texas Historical Commission, with essential services shifted to other agencies.

The coalition also suggested eliminating two economic-development funds prized by Gov. Rick Perry: the Texas Enterprise Fund and Emerging Technology Fund.

Budget writers must examine every state agency with only one question in mind, said Julie Drenner with the Heartland Institute, another coalition member: “Do I reform it, or do I eliminate it?”

Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income Texans, said the coalition is proposing cuts that ignore the needs of a fast-growing population.

“They’re trying to starve the future,” Lavine said. “We need to focus on things like investments in education that are going to pay off big-time for us — if we are willing to make the investments now. We will make back that investment many times over in terms of a more prosperous state and a more skilled workforce.”

Texans for a Conservative Budget was successful last year in persuading legislators to pass a two-year state budget that did not raise taxes or tap the rainy day fund to meet shortfalls in the 2012-13 budget.

Expecting the budget fight to be even more intense in the 2013 legislative session that begins in January, the coalition re-formed this spring to offer Tuesday’s broad outline of budget priorities, with more specific recommendations expected in the coming months, said Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Michael Quinn Sullivan with Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, another coalition member, said failing to heed the call for cuts could jeopardize legislators’ election hopes. “Raising taxes and seeking new revenue sources is off the table for Texas taxpayers and voters, and so it needs to be also for lawmakers,” he said.

The coalition also includes American Majority, Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax Reform.

Contact Chuck Lindell at 
912-2569


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Texas High School Graduation Rates Rising

Report: Texas high school graduation rates rising

WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press

Updated 12:12 a.m., Monday, March 19, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ graduation rate for high school students increased 1.9 percent since 2002 to just below the national average, according to a new report by a coalition of education groups.

The report found that high school graduation rates rose from 73.5 percent to 75.4 percent between 2002 and 2009— and pulled almost even with the 2009 average nationwide of 75.5 percent.

The national graduation rate, though, increased faster than the state’s, climbing 2.9 percent over the same 7-year period. The biggest gains nationwide came in Tennessee, where rates jumped 17.8 percent, and New York, which increased 13 percent, between 2002 and 2009.

The report did not provide a state-by-state ranking, but comparing results showed that Texas and Colorado are tied for 28th, just behind Oregon and just ahead of Michigan, Rhode Island and Hawaii. Wisconsin led the nation with a graduation rate of 90.7, while Nevada was last with 56.3 percent.

The report will be presented Monday in Washington at the Building a Grad Nation summit sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance, a children’s advocacy organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It was authored by John Bridgeland and Mary Bruce of Civic Enterprises, a public policy firm focused on social change, and Robert Balfanz and Joanna Fox of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

The authors used the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate, which tracks first-year students through all their years in high school, since they said it was the best and most-recent data available nationwide.

More good news for Texas came in the state’s percentage of 4th graders testing at or above proficient in reading, which increased a single percentage point to 28 percent between 2003 and last year. The percentage of 8th graders testing at or above proficient in math also jumped from 25 percent to 40 percent over the same period.

Texas is in the first year of implementing a new standardized testing system, and some districts have drawn criticism for spending more time preparing kids for statewide exams than they do on actual classroom instruction. But Robert Scott, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry as head of the Texas Education Agency, has maintained that students statewide are improving in reading, math and science — and that their high school graduation rates have increased — despite more-strenuous standardized testing.

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Fond Memories

I have been employed with CIS for the past 4 years & I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience with CIS.

I was first introduced to CIS shortly after I moved to Texas upon graduating from Western Carolina University. I was furiously job hunting & knew very little about Texas or the social work job opportunities here. While scouring the internet for social work jobs, I came across the CIS website. I knew the moment I stumbled upon the CIS website that this job was for me. I enjoy working with children and their families and thought CIS would be the perfect fit. So, I decided to apply for the Project Manager position.

A couple of weeks later, I received a call for an interview. I was so excited and anxious throughout the interview. I really hoped to get this job.

After a second interview, I shortly received a call from Myra letting me know I got the job. I was so excited I did not know what to do. Little did I know the exciting and wonderful journey I would begin by accepting a position with CIS.

My time with CIS has been an exciting. I have gotten to work with and help many families.  I feel that I have been able to make a difference in their lives. I am not going to say it has always been an easy journey, but it has been an enjoyable one.

Although it has been challenging at times balancing the many roles and responsibilities a CIS social worker takes on, I am happy I had the opportunity to have this unique social work experience. It is not often that people can say they love what they do, but I honestly do and would not trade my experience with CIS for anything.

I will truly miss my Azle Elementary and my CIS family when I leave Texas this summer to go back home to North Carolina. I will cherish the fond memories I have made.

-Staci Ward


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Save the Date

For more information, please contact Alejandra Morado at alejandra.morado@cistarrant.org or (817) 446-5454.


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Rediscovered Emotions

I have returned to the field of school social work after about a 10 year hiatus. My first job after receiving my Masters in School Social Work was with CIS (in Bexar County) and here I am again, at CIS of Tarrant County. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the significance of being at CIS again—working for an agency that I really believe in, but starting at the “bottom” again.

In December, I moved with my family into a new home (the final step in our transition back to Texas), and I discovered a box labeled “School Social Work tools” that had been in storage for about 8 years. It was like Christmas morning. I felt like a young graduate who was full of ideas and enthusiasm.

At the bottom of the box, were the magic wand and magnifying glass that the faculty advisor for my cohort gave to each of us upon graduation. She explained to us that the magic wand had many uses—one use was to remind us of all that we’d learned. As a cohort, we had shared group curriculum, therapeutic games, ideas for working with teachers, and many amazing and “magical” tools to help us as we work with kids. The magic wand was also for us to use (in a lighthearted manner and with the right teachers) when we needed to remind teachers that we were, in truth, not magical and that we could not “fix” students by twinkling our nose or waving a magical stick. Change would be slow and our job was to give the kids the tools to make their own change and their own magic. A magic wand is also very fun to use in several group activities and games with our youngest students.

The magnifying glass was a very important reminder to look for and be grateful for the smallest change, improvements or “magic”. As social workers, change is often hard to see and easy to overlook. Some days in my CIS position, I feel like “all I have done is paperwork”, but when I look back at my day, I remember that I shared a smile with a child, I helped a family make a connection to needed resources, or I enlightened a teacher on the bigger picture of a child’s life. I believe we empower families, teachers and volunteers to make magic every day.

Since that “School Social Work tool” box has been in storage, I have added tools that I have learned as a parent, a preschool teacher, a foster care case manager and therapist, a community organizer, PTO Vice President and volunteer. I have filled my toolbox over the years but some days, admittedly, I get frustrated—by the paperwork, by the roadblocks, by the budget cuts–then I remind myself that there is important work to be done.   Each opportunity I have to sit with the other CIS Tarrant social workers and share ideas, I add to my toolbox.  The real magic is that the toolbox has no boundaries and I can just keep on filling it up.

Kathy Roemer, LMSW
Communities in Schools


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New Addition to Our CIS Family

I recently joined Communities In Schools as Vice President and Chief Development Officer. I joined CIS because they make a difference. Cliché, right?

Not when you have the results to prove it.

Since the earliest days of organized altruism, people support charitable organizations because they want to “make a difference,” to “strengthen the community,” to “change lives,” etc. These sentiments, while noble, lead to a key question that many organizations struggle to answer with concrete evidence. And it is a pertinent question that funders are now demanding an answer to: You say you are making a difference. Can you prove it?

I joined Communities In Schools because they CAN prove it.

Last year, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) funded an independent, national research project led by Texas A&M University (WHOOP!) that included every drop-out program in the nation.  This study concluded that Communities In Schools is the only program in America that can prove both reduced dropout rates and improved graduation rates. 97% of the at-risk children served by CIS remain in school.

Our dedicated staff work intensely with children facing a wide range of challenges which, if left unaddressed, will have a devastating effect. Every day our staff see children who face hunger, gangs, lack of shelter, pregnancy, and the list goes on.

You know the story of the man who takes a walk on the beach and sees hundreds of starfish washed up on the shore? In the story, the man sees a stranger picking up one starfish at a time and tossing it back in the ocean. When the man asks the stranger why he bothers (because he can’t possibly save them all), the stranger replies, “no, but I saved that one.” This story, while heartwarming, is little comfort to a social worker who goes to bed on Friday night wondering if one of the children at their school will have enough food to sustain them over the weekend, for it is not the hundreds of success stories that stick with this social worker. It’s the face of the child who desperately needs someone to reach out to them, someone to help them navigate and obtain the resources available in the community, someone to empower them. And there are many in need.

The CIS program works, and it is my goal to support this amazing organization by raising needed resources to ensure the program is available to children who need it, and to the school principals who demand it. Yes, you heard that right. Principals in nearly every district in Tarrant County have heard of the success of the CIS program and have expressed desire to bring it to their school because, at the end of the day, they know the CIS social workers will provide their at-risk students with resources and services the school can’t. Even while school budgets are being slashed, our program, since 1992, has grown from serving 2 schools to serving 38. And the demand is growing.

As Communities In Schools celebrates 20 years of helping children succeed in school and in life, we are thankful to our supporters in the community who have made our services possible, and we look ahead to the next decade of demonstrating that CIS is the proven dropout prevention program.

Lindsey Garner