Aspire Toledo and the StriveTogether Theory of Action

Aspire Toledo is part of the StriveTogether network of community organizations dedicated to improving outcomes for young people through community impact and continuous improvement. As a member of the StriveTogether, Aspire Toledo adheres to a rigorous framework, based on a number of milestones strategically designed to create a culture of cooperation and partnership between every group of stakeholders within a community. StriveTogether refers to this framework as the Theory of Action,

The StriveTogether Theory of Action

The StriveTogether Theory of Action consists of five distinct levels of achievement, which they call Gateways. In order to move from one Gateway into the next, Aspire Toledo and other organizations within the network must demonstrate increased capabilities according to a set of standards in which the community is engaged, locally defined disparities are eliminated, a culture of continuous improvement is established, and existing assets are leveraged. Each of the five Gateways has its own set of criteria according to four Pillars. Here’s how the Gateways and their Pillars are presented.

Gateway 1: Exploring. This is the first phase, in which partnerships are initially formed and a plan is first formalized.

  • Pillar 1: Shared Community Vision.
    • Stakeholders from across the community come together to organize a cradle-to-career vision for the region. Leadership, accountability structures and messaging are established.
  • Pillar 2: Evidence-Based Decision Making.
    • The partnership selects community-level outcomes and core indicators.
  • Pillar 3: Collaborative Action.
    • The community commits to a model based on continuous improvement.
  • Pillar 4: Investment and Sustainability.
    • An anchor entity is established and funders are engaged.

Gateway 2: Emerging. In this phase, an organizational structure is in place, and a baseline is established.

  • Pillar 1: Shared Community Vision.
    • Disaggregated baseline data is available for the community’s perusal.
  • Pillar 2: Evidence-Based Decision Making.
    • Baseline data is collected for key sub-populations, and a set of core indicators is prioritized.
  • Pillar 3: Collaborative Action.
    • Collaborative Action Networks are engaged to improve community-level outcomes.
  • Pillar 4: Investment and Sustainability.
    • Partners provide operations funding for the organization.

Gateway 3: Sustaining. At this point, the structures are all in place, and the organization is beginning to leverage even more community assets to effect change within the core indicators.

  • Pillar 1: Shared Community Vision.
    • A consistent message is being communicated across all internal partners, and roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.
  • Pillar 2: Evidence-Based Decision Making.
    • Indicators are being continually refined to increase accuracy and validity; partners are connected with student-level data.
  • Pillar 3: Collaborative Action.
    • Collaborative Action Networks are identifying opportunities and barriers, enabling them to take action to improve outcomes
  • Pillar 4: Investment and Sustainability.
    • Resources are allocated to improve community-level outcomes, and a collective advocacy agenda is developed to change local, state, or national policy.

Gateway 4: Systems Change. Here’s where we truly start to see exciting improvements within the community. As the structures prove themselves durable, services organizations have access to the student-level data that will empower them to leverage their capacities.

  • Pillar 1: Shared Community Vision.
    • Accountability is firmly in place, and successes and challenges are effectively communicated.
  • Pillar 2: Evidence-Based Decision Making.
    • Student-level data is shared appropriately across partners in a timely manner.
  • Pillar 3: Collaborative Action.
    • Partners use continuous improvement to take what’s working and share it, so that outcomes can be improved.
  • Pillar 4: Investment and Sustainability.
    • Funding is in place to not only sustain activities, but also to foster an environment of continuous improvement.

Gateway 5: Proof Point. A community at Proof Point is one that is seeing indicators improving. This is the ultimate goal for organizations in the StriveTogether network, and Aspire Toledo is working diligently to see this become a reality.

Aspire Toledo: The Path to Proof Point

To make the goal of Proof Point a reality, Aspire Toledo is working with stakeholders from all walks of life, listening to their concerns and helping to facilitate solutions. The greater Toledo area is filled with passionate people dedicated to improving the lives of our young people. By taking a data-driven approach to locate places where improvements can be made effectively and efficiently, we can see a brighter future sooner than ever.




Network News: Aspire Gathers Data on Measurements

In late July, Aspire held two joint sessions with members of the kindergarten readiness and the graduation networks to discuss metrics and measurements. The sessions were facilitated by Lean Six Sigma experts from O-I, Saundra Farah and Bob Harman. Approximately 30 people from 15 organizations attended (see list below). A third and final session will be held on Thursday, June 30. We encourage you to attend to ensure that your voice is heard.

The point of the sessions was/is to find out what programs and organizations in Lucas County feel we should or could be measuring and what we/they are already measuring. The ultimate goal is to identify which secondary measures would best indicate whether we are on the track to improve our primary measures and outcomes.

We started with a review of the overall objectives:

Outcome Children enter school ready to learn Youth graduate from high school prepared for the next step
Primary measure KRA Scores 4 year graduation rate
Secondary measures In discussion In discussion


The point of identifying secondary measures is that it will take years to see sustainable improvement in the primary measures, but there are other things that could serve as indicators of change. For instance, a consistent increase in attendance rates in grades 10 through 12 would likely result in larger numbers of students who graduate.

The first question participants responded to was what we called the “Blue Sky” question – “What could or should we be measuring to better understand what’s happening?” Network members wrote their ideas on sticky notes and placed them on flip charts for the appropriate are: Kindergarten Readiness / Youth Development / High School Graduation.

The second question was “What are you currently measuring?” We discovered that many programs, especially in the early childhood area, measure many different things. We did not attempt in these sessions to determine whether the data they were collecting would be considered good and replicable data, nor whether it was actionable. That will be done later with the help of experts.

The third topic we discussed were concerns/hopes and fears related to Aspire’s quest for data and measurement. We appreciated the openness with which participants shared their concerns, and we will do our best going forward to better explain what we are and are not trying to do.

All of the responses will be captured in a report and shared with network members and outside experts, who will help us determine which of the measures are appropriate, replicable and meaningful. Our hope is to have these measures determined by the fall so that we can pilot them with certain programs.

Organizations that participated in the measurement sessions:

  • YMCA and JCC of Greater Toledo
  • Harbor Behavioral Health
  • YWCA of Northwest Ohio
  • Toledo Lucas County Public Library
  • YWCA of Northwest Ohio
  • Grace Community Center
  • United Way of Greater Toledo
  • Center for Nonprofit Resources
  • Brightside Academy
  • Toledo Public Schools
  • Mosaic Ministries
  • Legal Aid of Western Ohio
  • Center for Hope Family Services
  • Child Support Enforcement
  • Acumen Research and Evaluation, LLC


IMG_6991 IMG_6973 IMG_6969 IMG_6968IMG_6995 IMG_6991 IMG_6950

Aspire Hosts GradNation Event For Parents in East Toledo

In April, Aspire hosted a community summit at the East Toledo Family Center to gather information from parents and caregivers in the Waite community about high school participation and attendance.  Some 100 people attended the event, participating in facilitated round table discussions.  Aspire Board Chairman Denny Johnson attended the event, as did volunteers from multiple partner agencies.

The YWCA Youth Development Programs, Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, Adelante, Mercy St. Vincent’s Healthy Connections Program, ABLE, and the Toledo Federation of Teachers all were on hand offering information on their support programs.

Superintendent of Toledo Public Schools and Aspire Board Member Romules Durant spoke to the group about the importance of education and the role of parents, highlighting the many new initiatives being introduced at Toledo Public Schools.  A representative from America’s Promise Alliance gave a presentation on the GradNation campaign.

Strengthening Families parent partners led the café conversations discussing challenges, as well as what student success looks like for parents.

Parents surveyed after the event said it was informative and interesting; that it gave them hope and inspiration and that they appreciated the support.

Click here for more photos.


Aspire Thanks Its Supporters at East Toledo Parent Summit

Aspire would like to recognize our community partners who came out to support the Aspire East Toledo Parent Summit.  The evening was a great success!  Nearly 100 family members attended the event, which was sponsored by GradNation and AT&T.

Parents were welcomed by Aspire Board Chair Denny Johnson.  Aspire Operation Team members Jane Moore, Chad Henderly and Libby Schoen served the families a wonderful meal.  Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant, who is also an Aspire Board Member, kicked off the night with remarks about many of the new programs being introduced throughout the school system.  Madeleine Bien of America’s Promise Alliance, the organization behind the GradNation campaign, also addressed the group and talked about that organization’s drive to achieve a nation-wide graduation rate of 90 percent.

Aspire would also like to acknowledge several of our community partners who came out to provide support and information to families.  The programs included, YWCA Youth Development Programs, Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, Adelante, Mercy St. Vincent’s Healthy Connections Program, ABLE, and the Toledo Federation of Teachers.  The families appreciated the information provided by the Aspire partners.

The event could not have succeeded without the support of the Strengthening Families parent partners led by Marian Brannon, Strengthening Families Coordinator.  The parent leaders led the café conversations, discussing what student success looks like for parents, as well as the challenges they face.  We’d also like to thank the numerous Aspire Network members who worked with the parent leaders to capture the major themes from the café conversations.  Gathering input from parents is an important part of Aspire’s work.

At the close of the event, parents were asked to share one word that captured the evening for them.  Here are a few of the responses shared by parents:

  • Informative
  • Interesting
  • Grateful
  • Hopeful
  • Enlightened
  • Educational
  • Inspirational
  • Helpful
  • Joyful
  • Astonishing
  • Supportive




Aspire Kindergarten Readiness Network Update

Aspire’s first  Kindergarten Readiness Network  meeting of 2016 was held in February.
Each of the three Aspire Lean Six Sigma Project Teams provided attendees with updates on their exciting progress and gathered feedback from the members of the network.  The teams include the following:
  • Data Warehouse Needs Assessment Project (aka Resource Mapping)
  • Student Data System Pilot Project
  • Program Dashboard Project (aka Program Quality Report Project)
There is still time to join a team.  Feel free to reach out to Kristen Kania ( or any of the team leaders for more information on how you can help out with their work.
The next network meeting will likely take place in June.

Network News – January 2016, Aspire Kindergarten Readiness Network

Kindergarten Readiness Network Update Dec. 2015

The Aspire Kindergarten Readiness Network met on Monday, December 7 at the United Way.  At this meeting, the Network was presented with Aspire’s next steps toward improving Kindergarten Readiness.

For the first half of 2016, Aspire will work on three major projects aimed at bringing each Network closer to their goals – (1) Conduct a Data Needs Assessment of Education, Health and Human Services Data for the Data Warehouse; (2) Develop a Program Dashboard for Early Childhood and High School Age Programs; and, (3) Recommend a Student Data System to build.

The data warehouse will be rolled out in conjunction with the Chapter Two Report. The Data Needs Assessment will support the continued development of the data warehouse. By identifying additional community data and information for this system, we will continue to build our capacity to make data driven decisions.

By developing a template for Program Dashboards, we will further data driven decision making — supporting a culture of continuous improvement. The Program Dashboards will further the understanding of what is available for our children.

By the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, the intent is to have a student level data system in place to pilot in Waite Feeder Pattern Neighborhoods. The system will enable us to know what truly works to support cradle to career success.

The Kindergarten Readiness Network will continue to meet bi-monthly in 2016. The project teams will meet during the months between Network meetings.


In addition to these projects, the Aspire Kindergarten Readiness Network will host a Kindergarten Readiness Summit for Parents in the Waite Feeder Pattern Neighborhoods this Spring. The goal is to assist parents in better understanding Kindergarten Readiness.

LSS Project Teams

Aspire continues to build a culture of continuous improvement in Lucas County. In November and December 2015, five dedicated volunteers from Aspire partner agencies – Toledo Public Schools, United Way of Greater Toledo, and the Mental Health & Recovery Services Board of Lucas County – completed Lean Six Sigma (LSS) Green Belt training at Owens Illinois.

Between January and June 2016, teams led by the new LSS trainees will complete three key projects with Aspire. These projects support the work of both the Kindergarten Readiness Network and the Graduation Network.

The project teams will meet in January, March and May. If you are interested in joining a LSS Project Team, please feel free to contact the project team leaders listed below or Kristen Kania at

LSS Project Teams Meeting Schedule for January*:
Meeting: January 19 at the UW from 2 PM to 3:30 PM
Project Team Leaders:
Gayle Lake
Toledo Public Schools
Community Liaison Director of Programs and Enrichment Activities
Toni Shoola
United Way of Greater Toledo
Investment Reporting and Data Lead

(419) 254-4612

Meeting: January 20 at the UW from 2 PM to 3:30 PM
Project Team Leaders:
Evelyn McKinney
United Way of Greater Toledo, Income Manager
(419) 254-4675
Cami Roth Szirotnyak
Mental Health & Recovery Services Board of Lucas County
Quality Improvement Manager
(419) 213-4612

Meeting: January 21 at the UW from 1 PM to 2:30 PM

Project Team Leader:
Libby Schoen, Education Director
United Way of Greater Toledo,
(419) 254-4613
*The March meeting date will be set during the January meeting.

Network Meeting Schedule

The Aspire Kindergarten Readiness Network will meet bi-monthly at the United Way.  Here is the meeting schedule for the first half of 2016:

February 2, 2016
10 AM to Noon

at the United Way

April 13, 2016
10 AM to Noon

at the United Way

June 14, 2016
10 AM to Noon
at the United Way.