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Clayton talks progress, bright future in conversation with United Way and public officials

Superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools Dr. Morcease Beasley walked to the stage of the Clayton County Performing Arts Center on the morning of Aug. 14 to celebrate the improvements he’s seen his students and community make over the past few years.

Beasley was there alongside 150 business leaders, elected officials and a room full of community stakeholders to celebrate the progress that partnerships have made on the community since the launch of United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Child Well-Being Movement in 2017. He praised the work of the organization, his teachers and students, but he also mourned the life of a teenage girl who died earlier in the week.

The loss of one life just further emphasized the importance of saving the thousands of other students who had started school just a week prior.

“There are many variables that impact the level of performance that our children can and will achieve,” Beasley told the audience. “It takes a village, and we have a committed village. The work becomes doable and thank you for helping us make this work doable. Thank you to United Way of Greater Atlanta for working with us, alongside us, taking this journey to high performance with us, and for helping us address all the barriers that we should address in order for our children to be well.”

United Way of Greater Atlanta saw two years ago after its strategic planning meeting that the zip code a child lived in too often determines the fate of that child. United Way saw that, statistically, because of what zip code a child was born into, he or she was handed a disadvantage beyond their control. Through a set of 14 measures, United Way calculated at the time a regional child well-being score of 58.9.

On May 9, officials announced the score had improved in two years to 61.8. That equates to a change in the lives of more than 82,000 children in the region living in low or very low child well-being.

Some of the biggest changes took place in Clayton County, and on Aug. 14 United Way met for a conversation about the State of the Children in Clayton County.

Every person in the room either had a child of their own or at least knew a child, and Ginneh Baugh, vice president of strategic impact at United Way, used this as an entry point into the discussion about improvements in Clayton.

“We have a big aspiration, and we want to make sure that every community is a place of high child well-being,” Baugh says. “The children have to be doing well and their families have to be thriving. We started this journey a couple of years ago, and we have some data. It’s not always the brightest picture.”

The data wasn’t just used for rhetoric or to “pull at the heart strings,” Baugh says. Improving the score for the area, and for the region just made “good business sense.”

“This was our pathway to making the region fully self-sufficient,” Baugh said. “We have tons of leaders that are really energized behind the cause of child well-being.”

Clayton saw its child well-being score improve from 36.2 to 41.5 in just a two-year span. The county saw its graduation scores improve by 9.3 points, saw fewer families with a housing cost burden and 1.9 percent more adults who have health insurance.

“We can’t claim a victory, but we can claim progress,” Baugh said. “This is part of the entire movement of what it means to improve child well-being. Having this kind of gain in a short period of time means that everybody is paying attention.”

The event opened up to a panel-led discussion from community leaders like Beasley, and Chief Operating Officer of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners Detrick Stanford; business leader Shannon James and State Reps. Rhonda Burnough and Valencia Stovall.

The group talked about the importance of collaboration between businesses and nonprofit organizations like United Way, as well as the need for policy change in the statehouse.

Burnough said government had to make decisions for the entire community, and Stovall agreed.

“Policies matter,” she says. “They are what drives what can and cannot be done in the community.”

That community has seen a significant demographic change in a 30-year span, though, Stanford said. He said Clayton was comprised of about 287,000 residents, most of which are black. He stressed the importance of making policy changes to keep up with the demographics and look to metrics such as the child well-being index on how to impact the future 30, 40 and 50 years down the road.

Beasley said his office was working collaboratively with organizations like United Way and elected officials to address problems of student mobility, which is directly related to family income and housing instability.

“What can we do to disrupt these bad systems?” he said. “Families don’t just want to move and take children out of good schools. They want to spread their dollar and stabilize the child’s attendance in the school to ensure that they can have a brighter future.”

Only through collaboration and partnership can we continue to move the needle, James says. He said the public, private and nonprofit sector needed to work in tandem to make sure they aren’t duplicating efforts.

He said it’s important that we continue these discussions beyond just one meeting like the one that morning.

“The more we continue to communicate and convene, no question the needle will be moved,” he said. “But we have to do it in an intentional way.”

To give intentionally and to help improve the lives of children across Greater Atlanta, donate to the Child Well-Being Impact Fund.

Bradley Roberts is a Content Manager at United Way of Greater Atlanta.


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