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Ready for School

Ready for School is a Holland, Zealand and Hamilton community initiative insuring that all children come to kindergarten prepared to succeed.
Michigan Lightlight: In your view, what makes your organization innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Ready for School Executive Director Patricia Sosa VerDuin: Our entrepreneurial model and the leadership from our corporate world, who have played so large a part of our development, is no small part of our innovation.
What is remarkable is that every school � private, public and charter � has agreed to participate and that every sector is represented.�
What is remarkable is that every school – private, public and charter – has agreed to participate and that every sector is represented.

What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
To be ready for success! Failure was not an option. From the moment we started the initiative, it was not “can we make it?” We wanted 75 percent of our children to be ready for school by 2015, and people wondered if that was realistic or obtainable. That was a conversation we never had. We never even entertained the question of failure. We now believe that by 2013 we could meet that goal, two years early.

What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
Even in the most ideal environment, be prepared for resistance to a new way of doing things. We need to be open to be constantly innovating. All of us have to be looking at state of the art practices and stop doing things that don’t work.

What really differentiates this organization?
Our strategic doing. From the moment that Ready for School started, we were really focused on reaching families. There is a target and a plan; we collect the data to find out whether or not we make the goals, and we give it the best we can. We test our theories and we make adjustments as we go.

What are the keys to success for your organization?
Vision, leadership, implementation, relationships, staying focused on children and believing in our mission.

What is an example of how one of these keys resulted in real change?
I just don't see how you can pull these apart, especially vision, leadership and implementation, because they are part of a three legged stool. In our case the vision came from the Community Foundation of the Holland Zeeland area, specifically the executive director Janet DeYoung. She took a risk in being the catalyst for change by doing something different. 

The leadership came from the vice president of human resources, Bruce Los, at a local manufacturing company called Gentex. He was one of those individuals who people in the community follow. His involvement was a signal to others that they might want to get on board.

Implementation came from myself: knowing how to organize the many moving parts into some coherent model – while at the same time having a heart for the work because of my roots as a Hispanic individual whose parents held education as key to opening doors. It was the synergy between these three things that resulted in real change. 

How does your agency organize the resources needed to make programs happen? 
We organize our resources in a way that empowers the community to be the experts. We structure ourselves to capture from other sectors so as not to reinvent.
We redesign quickly those things that are not working.
We redesign quickly those things that are not working. We remain dynamic, transparent and open to innovation. Most importantly, we stay focused on our children.
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