The Discovery Timeline provides a web-based opportunity to learn more about the history, events, and decisions of Discovery.
Discovery Planning & Launch
2000 - 2001
This phase of Discovery includes the legacy period for Children First, a prior initiative. During this time, the Memorial Fund:
- Talked with community groups and representatives
- Designed the intiative
- Invited community and statewide representatives to join the work as grantees and partners
Encouraged connections between communities, state and regional organizations, and school system
Engaging with communities and state organizations influenced the Memorial Fund's thinking about what it takes to change systems. As a result, Discovery was designed to:
- Engage Connecticut communities in building and implementing a local early care and education agenda
- Develop a statewide and regional network that supports the local communities and seeks state level change in policy and practice
- Foster instructional leadership.
Organized Discovery around 4 broad objectives
Unlike other states, Connecticut does not have a well developed regional or county system. Instead, it has 169 individual municipalities, each with it's own set of assets and challenges.
To account for this uniqueness, while still providing some guidance and structure, Discovery was organized around 4 objectives:
- to expand the supply of high quality early childhood education
- to increase the quality of existing early childhood education
- to build strong connections between early care and elementary education
- to improve studentsʼ social, emotional and academic performance
These objectives provided a menu for communities to choose from, but were not a prescriptive model.
Supported parent engagement and leadership
Active parent engagement-- at home, in the community, and in the state-- is a key ingredient of lasting policy change for children. Discovery's broad view of how parents contribute to change is represented in the "honeycomb" graphic, part of the Discovery Parent Voice in Action Guide. The guide was developed as a tool for Discovery community grantees to use in their efforts to listen to and collaborate with parents.
The work in communities was supported at the state level by Connecticut Parent Power, a parent led advocacy organization. Parent Power has fostered connections between parents and legislators and brought parents together around a shared set of priorities.
Offered small non-competitive, multi-year grants to 49 communities
Discovery grants were offered to 49 communities over a period of years in a non-competitive process. The intent was to meet communities where they are and not compare one community's progress to others. The Memorial Fund believed that the experience of local collaboratives would serve as an important foundation to shape early childhood policy and that a broad base of support across the state would be necessary to build critical mass.
Statewide and Regional Organizations
Funded a diverse group of statewide and regional organizations
Grants to statewide and regional organizations were designed to build capacity in the state through:
- Policy research
- Data analysis
- Developing systems change strategies
- Constituency building
- Community conversations
- Creating public information campaigns
These grants were intended to create a network of communications, research and advocacy support for local communities and build connections between the state and local advocates.
"High Need" Communities
Invited "high need" communities to participate in the initiative
The Memorial Fund invited all of the communities eligible for school readiness programs as determined by the Connecticut State Department of Education to participate in Discovery. Fourty-nine communities joined Discovery in 2001, representing more than half of the children in the state and including those living in some of the wealthiest as well as the poorest communities.
By 2009, public school K-12 data showed that more than 80% of students who receive free/reduced lunch and almost 90% of Connecticut's English language learners live in Discovery communities.
Invested in capacity building, technical assistance, and infrastructure, rather than programs
One of the lessons of Children First, a prior Memorial Fund initiative, was that grantees, acutely aware of the needs in their community, were inclined to use funds to provide services to address those needs.
Partly driven by resource limitations, given the large number of grantees, and partly to ensure that the funding in communities was used to change systems-- Discovery was designed differently. Communities received small grants and the Memorial Fund made a significant investment in building community capacity to support and influence policy.
Assigned a community liaison to each Discovery community
The Memorial Fund values, and had always fostered, direct relationships with its grantees. In the early months of Discovery, staff attempted to take on the role of on-site coach to the communities, providing customized, individual advice and information. They quickly learned that this would not work. The role was too time intensive and staff believed that their position as funder was interfering with the open communication needed to establish an effective coaching relationship.
The staff "fired" themselves and assigned a liaison to each community. The liaisons were a resource, a critical friend to communities, providing feedback, connecting communities to each other, and linking the Memorial Fund values and approach to the work in communities.
Community Dialogue Process
Supported a community dialogue process through grants for Community Conversations
In 1994, the Memorial Fund enlisted Public Agenda to understand how Connecticut residents viewed public education. The survey revealed a disconnect between the general public and educators in their views about education.
Subsequently, the Memorial Fund partnered with Public Agenda, The Institute for Educational Leadership, and the Connecticut League of Women Voters to develop Connecticut Community Conversations, a continuing program with the goal of involving citizens in defining and supporting community priorities for improving outcomes for children.
2001 - 2007
This phase of Discovery includes the launch of the initiative. The Memorial Fund supported collaboratives to develop a plan for 2004-2007. An array of technical assistance opportunities and peer and consultant supports were offered to the community groups as they established the collaborative and drafted their plans.
During this period, the Memorial Fund also provided funding and consultation to a group of statewide and regional grantee organizations.
Early Childhood Alliance
Supported the development of an early childhood consortium
When a study of Connecticut's advocacy landscape revealed some duplication and gaps in key areas, the Memorial Fund convened a group of early childhood stakeholders to think about how to strengthen and refine their collective voice. Over a period of years, the Memorial Fund worked with these stakeholders to establish the Early Childhood Alliance.
This network now includes more than 70 advocacy organizations, state agencies, community and parent representatives and funders working together on behalf of children.
Fostered and supported peer learning
Peer learning is a key ingredient in community growth and capacity. From the beginning of Discovery, all of the communities were regularly brought together to share their experiences and participate in workshops.
In 2003, the Memorial Fund began testing new formats to connect grantees and partners, through a grantee listserv, a website dedicated to Discovery, and through webinars, conference calls, and regional meetings.
In 2004, the first Stone Soup conference was offered, bringing all of the Discovery grantees together to hear and share new ideas and resources, work through challenges, and celebrate successes. This is now a well attended, energizing yearly tradition.
Supported community collaborative development
Collaboration is a core value of the Memorial Fund and a central piece of Discovery. Grantees are encouraged to work across a broad range of individuals and organizations to improve child outcomes.
Communities received support and technical assistance to build their local relationships and a collaborative table. The work of fostering relationships, getting the right people to the table, and structuring the collaborative took time and support.
The existence of established local collaboratives and their success in moving community agendas provided a foundation for a public-private partnership in 2007 between the Memorial Fund, the Early Childhood Education Cabinet, the Children’s Fund of Connecticut and the State Department of Education. The partnership funded comprehensive early childhood community planning efforts in 23 communities.
Responded to growing interest in establishing a statewide parent advocacy group
Three Discovery communities (formerly Children First grantees) had a vision for a statewide, parent led network that would advocate for children and families. Taken with this idea, the Memorial Fund provided funding and consultation for the development of Connecticut Parent Power.
Parent Power grew into a highly regarded statewide organization that works to engage, empower and mobilize parents to act on children's issues. Among other successful advocacy efforts, Parent Power worked with Discovery communities and the Connecticut Commission on Children on a bill that requires school districts to report on their efforts to increase parent involvement.
Parent Power is also an active member of the Early Childhood Alliance and helps connect parents with the public debate on state level policies affecting children.
EC Cabinet and Council
Supported the Early Childhood Cabinet and the Research and Policy Council
In 2005, Governor M. Jodi Rell sought legislation to establish the Connecticut Early Childhood Education Cabinet (the Cabinet) to evaluate the school readiness program and develop policy recommendations. The Early Childhood Research and Policy Council (the Council) was then created to support the Cabinet’s work. These entities were to lay the ground work for building a state-level early childhood system.
Executive Director David Nee co-chaired the Council, and the Memorial Fund contributed staff and funding to support this effort. The Council provided research, policy papers and policy analysis, and the work culminated in the development of a multi-year investment plan. However, implementation of this plan was derailed by the economic recession.
2008 - 2009
This phase of Discovery represents the two year extension of the initiative with an increased investment in community and statewide grantees. The Memorial Fund Board of Trustees supported the extension and increased investment to take advantage of a favorable policy climate and to provide grantees the resources to leverage the growing momentum around early childhood issues.
Period of Enhanced Funding
Discovery extension and period of enhanced funding
Discovery was to conclude at the end of 2007. However, in 2006, the Board of Trustees invited the staff to consider extending Discovery to take advantage of increased momentum and a positive political climate for early childhood issues.
Staff developed a strategy for moving forward and the Trustees voted to extend the initiative through 2008. Discovery grew from an original investment of $16 million over 6 years to a total of more than $28 million over 8 years. This resulted in additional funding for:
- statewide organizations to collaborate;
- increased communications efforts;
- regional work;
- intensified capacity building efforts;
- funding partnerships;
- matching funding to the state to expand and support parent leadership and community planning.
Adjusted TA Strategy
Adjusted the strategy for delivering technical assistance support to communities
Discovery’s capacity building strategy was ambitious from the start. Implementing the strategy was challenging. It became clear that technical assistance offered through single session workshops attended by one community representative was difficult for participants to apply "on the ground."
As a result, beginning in 2008, technical assistance focused on 3 core capacities and was offered to community teams through multi-session workshop series. Workshops were delivered by expert organizations in each area:
Offered Regional Grants
In March 2007, Memorial Fund staff conducted four regional meetings to hear from community grantees. The purpose of these meetings was to test support for Discovery's core values and to hear from communities about how the 2008-2009 grant opportunities should be structured.
At each meeting, a recurring theme was the need for communities to work together. In response, the Memorial Fund offered additional funding for regional work and received 6 applications for support to do parent engagement, communications, data collection and other joint work. The applicants included 17 Discovery communities and 20 other Connecticut communities.
Supported collaboration among 4 statewide grantees
In 2008, the Memorial Fund targeted its support for advocacy to four “core” grantees: the Connecticut Association for Human Services, the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance, Connecticut Parent Power, and Connecticut Voices for Children. These organizations received customized technical assistance both individually and as a group and additional funds to work on collaborative projects.
Each organization had received support over a number of years to build their skills and find their niche within the policy landscape. They had worked together before, but were now being encouraged to develop a unified approach and to, together, support the work in communities.
The result of this funding was a greater sense of collective purpose and a cross-organization, formal structure for supporting joint strategies. This joint work included a local and statewide communications campaign.
New Discovery Communities
Invited additional communities to participate in Discovery
At the outset of Discovery, all communities eligible for the State Department of Education’s School Readiness Program were invited to apply for Discovery grants. Over the course of the initiative, sixteen more communities became eligible for School Readiness funding.
In the fall of 2007, as part of an expansion strategy, the Memorial Fund invited all sixteen to a forum to discuss options for participating in Discovery. Five new communities chose to join the original 49 Discovery communities .
Offered to match state investments in leadership development and community planning
To stimulate state investment in community planning and parent engagement, the Memorial Fund offered to match new state investment in these areas. These funds were offered to support local collaboratives to develop or enhance a comprehensive community plan for young children, as well as to support the Parent Trust Fund’s parent leadership training grants.
In January 2008, 23 communities were funded through a public-private partnership of the Memorial Fund, the Early Childhood Education Cabinet, the Children’s Fund of Connecticut and the State Department of Education. The communities submitted their plans in June 2009. In 2010, the State once again accepted the match offer from the Memorial Fund.
Planning for Next Phase
2009 - 2010
This phase of Discovery encompasses the Memorial Fund planning for 2010-2014. More than 300 parents, teachers, community leaders, advocates, early childhood providers, researchers, and other partners, through forums and workgroups, provided their perspectives on the grantmaking strategy.
What came out the planning process was the strategic plan for 2010-2014, with the results statement, "Connecticut children of all races and income levels are ready for school by age five and are successful learners by age nine."