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On behalf of their partners in the Iowa Collaboration for Youth Development, Linda Miller and Carol Behrer describe a statewide interagency collaboration to coordinate educational policies, practices, and programs, and show how policy can serve as a tool for linking the contexts in which youth develop.1

No community ought to be satisfied until all its young people are healthy and successful in school, enjoying equal opportunity to grow into productive citizens. We therefore need cohesive, research-based efforts that engage schools and communities in collaboratively promoting the healthy development of all children. Partner agencies in the Iowa Collaboration for Youth Development (ICYD), a state interagency partnership designed to better align policies and programs on youth-related issues, all share the goals of helping youth attain social competence, health, and school success, as well as benefit from the support of families, schools, and communities, in preparation for productive adulthood. Since 1999, ICYD has promoted the use of positive youth development principles in state policies and programs throughout Iowa.2

The ICYD has developed a results framework to focus and facilitate the work of its partner agencies and of several youth related endeavors it is developing. One of those endeavors is Learning Supports, ICYD's first comprehensive, multi-agency effort. This effort targets the school success component of ICYD's mission. Spearheaded by the Iowa Department of Education, Learning Supports is designed to address how schools and communities can work together to ensure that “all Iowa youth are successful in school.”3

Learning Supports is built on the belief that each partner's contribution to students' health, social competence, and preparation for adulthood, as well as to students' family, school, and community contexts, can help remove barriers that impede learning. Such efforts should form a comprehensive, cohesive system that wraps supports around teachers and the classroom by addressing the diverse needs and barriers to learning faced by the state's children and families. Services offered through Learning Supports range from universal programs for all youth to more targeted interventions for those at risk or with intense and complex needs.

In 2003 a design team, with input from a broad array of stakeholders and consultation from national experts, formulated a logic model4 detailing the guiding principles, desired short- and long-term outcomes, and intended results for Iowa's students. The team subsequently developed a prototype of the system to be used for achieving those outcomes. The initial Learning Supports prototype, currently in use, consists of (a) a set of long-term results and measures; (b) a cohesive intervention framework to help create a full continuum of services—for example, instructional supplements, supportive learning environments, youth involvement, family support and involvement, and community partnerships; (c) an infrastructure connecting multiple systems and multiple levels within systems; (d) alignment of learning supports-related policies; and (e) capacity building at all system levels.5

Capacity building in Iowa's local education agencies currently is in the early phase of implementation, focusing on comprehensive planning and infrastructure development. In the second year, the methods and tools developed will be tested in several school-community sites. Lessons learned during Learning Supports' early implementation phase will inform scale-up to other communities throughout the state.

Evaluation is an integral part of all phases of the Learning Supports effort. Of particular interest in these early evaluations are questions about what it takes to move a coordinated agenda throughout the state and how this process differs in communities with different levels of regional support. In addition to these process questions, student outcomes will be tracked. The ultimate question for the evaluation to answer is whether creating and implementing comprehensive, cohesive systems of learning supports will positively impact indicators of school success and what are the system factors that significantly contribute to that success.

All ICYD partners believe that their joint work will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Iowa's services for children and youth, and yield reciprocal benefits for all partner agencies and their respective missions. Making changes within and across systems to re-orient traditional approaches toward a common, agreed-upon set of results is a daunting prospect. Success will be measured by changes ensuing from the will to modify or eliminate ineffective practices and embark on new, improved ones. If the Learning Supports endeavor accomplishes its goal of improved student learning, it may provide a model for future collaborative work focused on other results areas pertaining to the healthy development of Iowa's youth.

1 For more information on the Learning Supports initiative, contact Linda Miller; for more on ICYD, contact Carol Behrer.
2 Among ICYD’s state-level partners, each of which also works with and through regional and local entities, are the Departments of Public Health, Education, Human Services, Workforce Development, Economic Development, and the Office of the Governor.
3 This goal is one of the primary results targeted by ICYD. For more information on the full set of targeted results see: Iowa Department of Education. (2004). Developing
our youth: Fulfilling a promise, investing in Iowa’s future.
Des Moines, IA: Author.
4 A logic model illustrates how an initiative’s activities connect to the outcomes it is trying to achieve.
5 This prototype is discussed in greater detail in the concept paper mentioned in footnote 3.

Linda Miller
Strategic Systems Development
Iowa Department of Education,
Grimes State Offi ce Building
Des Moines, IA 50319

Carol Behrer
Executive Director
Youth Policy Institute of Iowa
7025 Hickman
Road, Suite 4
Des Moines, IA 50322

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