Casey Fellow in Focus: Helping Kids Meet Early Milestones in Michigan

Posted October 30, 2017, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Sixteen diverse, visionary leaders recently graduated from the Casey Foundation’s Children and Family Fellowship®. Their experiences demonstrate what Fellows can accomplish when they apply the tools and competencies of Results Count™ — the Foundation’s results-based leadership approach — to achieve measurable results in child well-being.

Meet one of the graduates: Kristen McDonald, a CEO with a mission in Midland, Michigan.

McDonald just wrapped up her first year at the helm of Greater Midland, a nonprofit and network of community centers devoted to building healthier lives through recreation, social services and wellness experiences. From the get-go, she has encouraged her colleagues to think about their work in terms of how it improves people’s lives. She’s also given the community a voice — and an open ear.

“We invited community members to share their hopes and dreams for their children,” McDonald recalls. “Our shared target — that all children at the family centers are healthy and thriving — resonated with everyone.”

As a Children and Family Fellow, McDonald was determined to help more of the children in her family centers meet developmental milestones. In eight short months, she did just that, increasing the proportion of kids who hit pre-kindergarten milestones from 85% to more than 95% by June 2017.

“The Fellowship gave us a framework to be laser-focused on our result, a common language among staff, parents and service providers, and a way to approach data that wasn’t threatening and didn’t take the heart out of our work.”

McDonald and her team tracked teacher and student attendance as well as student achievement, and they reviewed the data every two weeks. By identifying who was lagging, they built deeper partnerships with those students’ families. They also individualized homework bags, developed teacher plans for each classroom with emergent learners and targeted professional development — among other strategies.

As a results culture was taking hold at Greater Midland, McDonald coached her staff through the basics, such as setting program-level results, performance measures and measurement vehicles. She shared three rules to her make her people more comfortable with change: 1) accept that it’s going to be messy; 2) accept that it’s okay to make mistakes; and 3) just dive in and try it.

Meet the rest of the class: Including McDonald, 16 leaders took part in Class 10 of the Fellowship. Learn about all of them.

“Like the Fellows who have preceded them, these 16 women and men are dynamic leaders who share a mission and a passion to make things better for young people using a results framework,” says Barbara Squires, the Foundation’s director of Leadership Development. “It’s satisfying to help them set their sights even higher and realize their vision for the children and families they serve.”

The Foundation will begin selecting the next Fellowship class in August 2018.

Learn more about the leadership lessons of the Children and Family Fellowship

Watch videos about leading for results