Stacy Wall Schweikhart and Dr. Thomas Lasley on Learn to Earn Dayton

Key Points

  • It is important to have strategies in place to impact performance metrics, especially in closing gaps between students based on race or identity.

  • We should prioritize the role of navigators in leading students to successful career paths.

Stacy Wall Schweikhart and Dr. Thomas Lasley on Learn to Earn Dayton

On this episode of the Getting Smart Podcast Shawnee Caruthers is joined by Stacy Wall Schweikhart, CEO of Learn to Earn Dayton. Stacy brings more than 21 years of public sector leadership and a deep network of partners and resources to the CEO role. 

We’re also joined by Dr. Thomas Lasley, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Montgomery County Educational Service Center and Founder of Learn to Earn Dayton. Tom focuses on shaping policies and practices that impact P-16 educational attainment. 

Learn to Earn Dayton recently participated in a design team as a part of the Accelerate ED initiative, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Accelerate ED is built on the idea that high schools can provide early access to quality higher education in ways that incorporate work-connected learning and have long-term benefits for students. This initiative helps state-based groups plan and build accelerated pathways between K-12 education, postsecondary education, and careers. 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart

Stacy Wall Schweikhart serves as CEO for Learn to Earn Dayton.  Stacy oversees a talented team, works in coordination with committed community partners and collaborates with a dedicated Board of Directors to implement the strategic vision for the organization. A Dayton native, Stacy brings more than 21 years of public sector leadership and a deep network of partners and resources to the CEO role. She joined Learn to Earn Dayton in 2022, having previously served as Director of Strategy & Engagement for MVRPC and in a variety of leadership roles with the City of Kettering, Ohio. Stacy earned her BA and MPA degrees from the University of Dayton and is an AICP certified professional planner.

Thomas J. Lasley

Thomas J. Lasley, II (Tom) serves as Director, Policy and Advocacy, Montgomery County Educational Service Center and Learn to Earn Dayton. Tom focuses on shaping  policies and practices that impact P-16 educational attainment. Tom served as Dean, Education and Health Sciences, University of Dayton until 2010 and continues to teach doctoral classes in higher education.  Tom serves on multiple regional and national boards including the Air Camp Inc., National Council on Teacher Quality, United Theological Seminary, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and the National Museum of the United States Air Force Foundation.  Tom completed all his degrees, including his Ph.D., at The Ohio State University and has authored or co-authored 14 books.



Shawnee Caruthers: You’re listening to the Getting Smart podcast. I’m Shawnee Caruthers. I am constantly around children. If I’m not talking about legos, I’m discussing in depth all the different dinosaur names, what fortresses are and are not, and how to practice meditation and learn yoga. And all of these conversations are with a five-year-old. For him, learning started at home, but with the support of his school community, he already feels clear about what it takes to be a builder when he grows up. Whatever he wants to learn, he teaches himself or he’ll seek out someone to teach him. As a result, he’s continually moving along the Learn to Earn continuum. I am so excited to have this timely conversation about ensuring that all students feel educationally ready and are supported by their community and have the necessary resources to ensure equitable experiences and outcomes. 

Shawnee Caruthers:
Today, I am joined by Stacy Wall Schweikhart, CEO of Learn to Earn Dayton. Stacy brings more than 21 years of public sector leadership and a deep network of partners and resources to the CEO role. We’re also joined by Dr. Thomas Lasley, Director of Policy and Advocacy of Montgomery County Educational Service Center and founder of Learn to Earn Dayton. Tom focuses on shaping policies and practices that impact P- 16 educational attainment. Stacy Tom, thank you so much for being here today. And first, just thank you for your service of all you’ve given to education. 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart: Shawnee, thank you very much for asking us to come and share some of our work here in Montgomery County, Ohio. 

Framework Development and Future Readiness

Shawnee Caruthers:
Thank you both. Stacy, I’ll start with you, and I just want to know learn a little bit more about Learn to Earn Dayton. So can you talk to me about the core mission and vision of Learn Dayton and how these have evolved over time? 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart: Sure. So Learn to Earn Dayton is a nonprofit organization doing place-based cradle-to-career work here in Montgomery County, Ohio, with influence and impact throughout the state of Ohio. Our purpose is to ensure that all of our students and their families in our region can thrive, regardless of race, gender or zip code. 

Dr. Thomas Lasley: And what I would add to that is that we believe that certain performance metrics are critical for any organization to track. Kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, eighth-grade math, high school graduation, college enrollment, and college graduation are performance metrics that we track and publish annually. And it’s through those that the community can really see if it’s creating and sustaining the intellectual capital that it needs for economic vitality. 

Shawnee Caruthers: Yeah, and I’m sure that you both are just constantly thinking through what school needs to be or what learning needs to be for the youngest of learners all the way through high school and beyond. And so as you think about your core mission and vision and what you imagine it to be and then what it is and even what you think it might need to be, as we think about the future of learning and the future of work, what has that evolution been and what do you think you’re going to try to move toward? 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart: So I think Learn to Earn under Tom’s leadership has been around for about a decade, a little more than a decade. And over the course of the work of our organization, I think in the early years there were targeted interventions in partnership with K-12 districts, higher education institutions, community-based organizations. And we still do that, really looking at pilot programs where we are testing and incubating a new approach for learning for our students. 

Where I think our work is going is to continue doing that, to be more bold about the things that we are trying to prove about a different way for our students and their families, but also really stepping up as a leader in the space of data, statewide and policy work. If we’re really going to transform the systems and the multiple systems that intersect to serve our students, we have to be using data to influence policy decisions and funding streams. 

Skill Progressions vs. Rubrics

Shawnee Caruthers: And Tom, that’s not a quick process. 

Dr. Thomas Lasley
: It’s not. And I think one of the things that people need to understand is that for each of the performance metrics that a community measures, for example, college enrollment, you should have a strategy or strategies to try to impact that. So FAFSA completion impacts college enrollment. Third-grade reading is one of our strategies, and we’ve embraced the science of reading and ensuring that all of our partners have really effectively implemented the science of reading to try to impact the third-grade reading proficiency metrics. So for listeners, I think that’s one thing to think about is what performance metrics are you trying to move? What strategies do you have in place to try to move those metrics? 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart: And our best advice really when you’re getting started in this work, is to look at the data and pick one place in the data where it is clear you need to see improvement in outcomes, and particularly places where you need to see closing of gaps of the disparities between students based on their race or identity and get people around a table, get cross sector partners around a table to say, here’s this number, how do we work together? 

Shawnee Caruthers: Yeah, I love how you broke that into a really bite-sized piece, because I’m sure you all probably have even experienced, just like looking at all of the data, feeling completely overwhelmed and then also trying to strategize around. How do I communicate this to the community so that I can also get their buy-in? And I’m sure one of the ways you all have done that are with the different programs and strategies that you all have around your cradle-to-career program. What were some of those key programs and initiatives for that program that you felt like the different levers that you had to pull in order to really move that forward and make it really effective for students and the community, et cetera. 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart: So I’ll share one and then I’m going to ask Tom to share one at the other end of the cradle-to-career continuum. The one I’ll share is at the very beginning of the continuum for Kindergarten Readiness. In 2014 Learn to Earn piloted a new approach for preschool, making it possible for all four-year-olds in the pilot community to have an opportunity to attend a high-quality preschool. We proved that the approach could work. We worked through all of the procedural elements, all of the communication with parents, all of the things you have to do when you’re building a program that is not only sustainable but scalable. And so we did that in one community. The next year we branched out to include another one. Fast forward. The initiative, which was called Preschool Promise, was included in a citywide income tax levy. 

It now has permanent public funding from both the city and the county. It was so successful and scaled so much that it actually spun off to be its own organization that is still running, and it’s really targeted at improving our metrics on kindergarten readiness. 

Shawnee Caruthers: Yeah, and you all were already kind of going down the path of getting, again, just those little bite-size action steps. So what people can do, as I’m listening to you talk about the permanent funding that you were able to achieve in order to ensure equity for all of the four-year-olds, how does this happen? I know you talked about data and policy, but if you were just kind of bringing it back just a little bit for our listeners who just really needed maybe some concrete steps, how do those things happen?

How do you ensure that pathways become part of the culture and not just an option? How do you get permanent funding for things that feel like they really matter, but isn’t always easy to get that permanency? 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart: So what I will tell you is what I always share about this work. It is 99% relationship. And so the relationships that we have with our local districts and higher education institutions, the relationships that we have with national partners that put us at the table for an opportunity like accelerated the relationships that we primarily Tom has with chancellors of higher education institutions, state leaders, policymakers, legislators. It is not an understatement to say that when legislative teams in Ohio are looking at making changes to things that impact education, Tom is on speed dial for what does this language need to look like? They trust Tom. They trust our team. And so it really is, truthfully, if we’re going to get down to what does it take? It takes relationships and it takes work. 

Dr. Thomas Lasley:
I think Stacy captured that quite well. The only thing I would add is that Jim Collins had the notion of making sure you have the right people on the bus. And those partnerships that she talks about, those relationships, developing that trust, all that’s contingent on having the right people on your team so that you know that the work can be done effectively and efficiently and with fidelity. So I’d encourage others who are getting ready to do this work, make sure you’ve got the right team in place to build a sustainable programmatic initiative. 

Integration with Existing Standards and Curricula

Shawnee Caruthers: Yeah, no, I appreciate that. And as you’re thinking about that outward trust, I’m sure there’s a lot of internal trust that has to happen within that team that you all were just talking about a lot of probably rethinking, reflecting, et cetera. But as you all implemented what you’re doing, just based on your experiences of mapping competencies needed for certain careers back through elementary school, can you share an example of what your team learned and just like maybe any changes that you had to make throughout the process? 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart: Well, I think the key thing is exactly what you included in the question is going all the way back to elementary school. If you’re starting in high school, for many students, it’s too late. And maybe not too late, but you miss opportunities. And so I think what we have integrated into our blueprint for this work is intentional career exploration activities early in elementary school. And one of the key things for us is to involve industry leaders in designing and implementing those. It’s really pushing the edge. It’s not asking a teacher to do an activity in a classroom, but when I talk about shared ownership, having those industry leaders come in and actually lead. 

Dr. Thomas Lasley:
I think that’s one of the things anyone doing this work has to understand. You really have to think systemically. And some of that systemic thinking relates to just not discovering kids when they become high school students. You’ve got to think about students throughout the pipeline. How are we trying to reach those who are very young? Birth to three? How are we trying to reach those who are in preschool? How are we trying to reach those who are in those elementary grades? Our country underinvests in significant ways. We underinvest in young learners, and we pay a price for that when it comes to trying to create a next-generation workforce. 

Stacy and I are committed through our work to try policies and practices at the prenatal to three, as well as policies and practices that go from the primary grades to high school and college. Unless you’re thinking those terms, you are not going to move the metrics in your community. 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart:
Across the country, we have to be working as a community with industry leaders, with higher ed institutions, with credentialing organizations to have a strategy for adults in our communities who need skills training, credentials, and degrees, for them to be ready for the jobs that are emerging and rapidly growing here in our region. And so that reskilling and figuring out there really isn’t in our country, we have a system for education, which certainly is not perfect, but we have one. But once you pass through a certain gateway, what does the system look like for you? How do you reenter? 

How do you get an assessment as an adult about what your career interests or aptitudes are and how they might align with opportunities that perhaps you’ve never considered? And so I think that’s another part of our work, and it’s critical for our know in Ohio overall, our population is not growing, and certainly, it’s not growing at the pace to keep up with job growth. And so our alternative really is to make sure that our adult workforce, post-education institutions know what the path looks like to get back to do what they need to do to make those jobs and those careers a reality. 

Reflective Practices and Authentic Articulations

Shawnee Caruthers: It’s a loop where everybody has to really be flowing and working together constantly. I want to circle back, as you were talking about youth science in the middle school and understanding the interest and the aptitude at that level. And then you were talking about the career awareness in the elementary school. How important is self-awareness in elementary school even before you begin career awareness? 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart: We’ve had a lot of conversations with our partners about self-awareness, socio-emotional learning, and about resiliency, and we see that as an element of this pathway’s work, that it is critical that we ensure elementary students, as they transition to middle school, as they transition to high school, have not only the career exploration opportunities but also have what historically have been talked about as soft skills. But it really is the resiliency and building that baseline of workforce readiness and how are we integrating that into our systems? And the other thing is, how are we using our partners who support our students in out-of-school time, in either summer or after school, in work-based learning opportunities to help to foster those skills and that resiliency that’s so critical. 

We’ve designed these pathways of a sequence of courses when students are in high school and then an additional year, or just a little bit more than that to reach the degree that they need in that pathway post-high school. But there’s a part of our work that involves making sure that the students who start these courses as 9th graders have what it takes to both academically perform, but then to also not have an overburden of stress or pressure, all the other things that start compounding their other areas of academic performance.

We, as part of our work over the last couple of years with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Accelerate ED, did extensive student and parent empathy interviews to hear their experiences and to hear when we talked about parts of our model or what it could look like, what was their reaction to that? What did they get excited about and what did they get concerned about and what additional things they would need to know what opportunities are available to know how to explore those and how to succeed in those. All critical parts of this design work. 

Shawnee Caruthers: Yeah. And throughout this, you all have really talked about the importance of community and partners. How do you all, or how does Learn to Earn Dayton collaborate with the local schools, government, higher education, other organizations? 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart: So that is ingrained into everything that we do. We are a collective impact organization and we don’t do any of our work on our own. I mean, it really is in deep partnership and it is aligning all of those different systems that intersect to serve our students and families. And so really starting to look at those trends of those concentrations and building the pathways that match the interest and aptitudes of a vast number of students versus asking the students to direct themselves towards what’s available based on industry demand. 

Dr. Thomas Lasley:
We also, Stacy and I, thanks to our relationship with the Montgomery County Education Service center, we meet with the superintendents of all the school districts in Montgomery County once a month. And because of that relationship that we have with those superintendents, we’re able to talk about common problems, and focus on goals that collectively we want to try to achieve. That has been a very special relationship for both Stacy and myself, being able to work with our local education service center to facilitate those conversations with the key educational leaders in our county. I encourage anyone who’s doing this work to find ways to regularly meet with your education partners to make sure that you have ongoing conversations about issues of interest. 

Implementation and Community Engagement

Shawnee Caruthers:
I’m glad you surfaced that, Tom. As you were talking about that, I was thinking that happens only in a few places sometimes because know when you get those different groups together, maybe they aren’t willing to be as transparent for the real work to be. Stacy, I know you’re talking about relationship and trust, but Tom, do you have any other pieces of how to build that transparency so that the community and those partners can really come together to move things forward? 

Dr. Thomas Lasley:
The only other suggestion I have, and I think Stacy and I have both been focused on this, is find as many different vehicles as you can to access the voice of the people that you’re working with. That might be that you’re serving on boards, that might be that you’re going town meetings that those other partners are having. People need to see that you are thinking beyond yourself. And if you look at the schedule that Stacy has or that I have, I think you would see that there’s a fair amount of time that we devote just to listening to the voices and the concerns of the people we’re trying to impact. And I think without that, your work is going to be significantly compromised. You’re never going to be happy with your outcomes. 

People need to see you’re invested in them, and that’s the way they invest in you, is to see that you’ve invested in them. 

Shawnee Caruthers:
Stacy, tell us about the PACCE Navigators. How are they trained and what role do they play in this work both day to day and then in this evolving idea for the future? 

Stacy Wall Schweikhart: Sure. So PACCE  is the acronym for our blueprint design that came out of the accelerated work, and its pathways for accelerated college and career experiences. And what we found, and this really derived from our conversations with those empathy interviews with students, with families, and with educators. An individual teacher, a building administrator, or a guidance counselor do not have the time in the day to also serve the role to help make sure that students are continuing to explore and align to a pathway that is right for them. We really found that we needed a new position within districts. 

The sole purpose of those navigators is to coordinate those early elementary career exploration and awareness activities, to lead the implementation of YouScience, to lead the individualized processing with students and their families about their YouScience results and what is available and possible, what the opportunities are. And then once they’re in the high school, the actual coursework, they are the people that help support the students and the work that we talked about earlier for resiliency and confidence and making sure that those students stick to those courses. Should a student decide part of the way through high school that they’re not sure that the pathway that they selected is the right one for them, the navigators are also the ones that can help figure out, well, okay, the courses you’ve taken so far will also align with these things that were also in your youth science. 

And so those navigators are like, they’re personal guides. That’s why we called them navigators. They are guides. They’re not counselors. And so they work for the district. So were able to use some of the funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help fund a navigator for one of our districts. You know, when we think long-term about this, those navigators are a critical element of our design, and we have to get to a place where we can influence policymakers and state departments about the redirect of some public funds. To have these positions in the Ohio workforce is the number one priority. And if it’s number one priority, then making sure we have navigators leading and guiding students to their careers really has to be something that we have to think differently about. 

Shawnee Caruthers: I just really appreciate the intentional way that you all are thinking about your community. And for you for Learn to Earn Dayton, the community is not just the students in the schools, the k through twelve, but truly the k through beyond and thinking through. How do we ensure that all of our community is well? And so it seems like that is a focus, and I truly appreciate that. And then at the beginning, a couple of words that you said was influence and impact, and based on this conversation, and I hope our listeners pick up on that as well, that’s exactly what it feels like you all are having in a very intentional way. 

So just as we think about Learn to Earn Dayton, the things that I will always associate will be those words, as well as trust in relationships and just really high quality programming in a way that cares for your community in a meaningful way. So thank you both so much for taking the time to have this conversation and allowing us to learn more about the great things that are happening at Learn to Earn Dayton.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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