By Guest Blogger Terry K. Peterson
William S. White, the Chairman of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation passed away on October 9, 2019. Bill was a monumental leader in the world of philanthropy. Working with many of you as well as many other foundations and organizations, he and the Mott Foundation have had and are continuing to have a tremendous positive impact on the afterschool and community learning center movement.
Collaborating with many partners, Bill and the C.S. Mott Foundation are helping us achieve big systems change with field engagement as an important part of the work. So, our work today is both top-down and bottom-up. As a result, there is a growing infrastructure on which to build. Several critical pillars of this infrastructure include:
• The formation and enhancement of the nationwide Afterschool Alliance. Across America in this diverse and very decentralized field, the Alliance is connecting many groups with similar agendas ranging from those in education and youth development to community and cultural groups and from scientific, law enforcement groups to faith-based groups.
• Building State Afterschool Networks. Starting with 8 state networks in 2002, we now have networks in 50 states. They and their allies inform and educate their state and local leaders about the potential and best practices of afterschool and summer learning and community schools. They encourage partnerships and more expanded learning opportunities to help solve a number of contemporary education and community issues.
• Supporting research and sharing of best practices. This growing body of findings is critical to continually identify what is working well and to make needed improvements. Also, the wide dissemination of the positive impacts is very important for both leaders and practitioners.
• The initial rapid growth and continual strengthening of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC). Today, this bipartisan initiative is in every state and administered by the state, but is federally funded. With a $1.4 billion current federal appropriation, the 21st CCLCs serve almost 2 million students and families and are in almost 13,000 schools and communities.
Together with this crucial infrastructure, Bill White’s style and insights also leave us an important legacy for all of us in this field to emulate. Leaders from across America and the world recently described Bill in just a few words. A video of these powerful statements was presented during an award ceremony honoring Bill at the annual meeting of the Michigan Council of Foundations; he passed away a day later. These powerful descriptors about Bill are terrific guides for our work: "Thought leader… on the ground and at the very top”; “Listener”; “Big Thinker”; “Willingness to take a risk”; “Persistent in seeing it through”; and “Staying power and loyalty to the work.”
Let me set the stage. In 1997, several bi-partisan leaders in the Congress and the Clinton Administration were looking for ways to fill the hours of 3-6 PM after school and summers with positive, safe, learning experiences. Right after a huge conference on this topic in October, 1997, on the White House lawn, Bill White casually came over to U.S. Secretary of Education Dick Riley and me (as then Counselor to the US Secretary). Within minutes and a handshake, we launched a tremendous and continuing partnership with the CS Mott Foundation to rapidly grow the 21st CCLCs from 7 sites to 10,000 sites within just five years. During that handshake, Bill’s instant multi-year, multimillion-dollar commitment was essential to launch this initiative and a massive effort to quickly go to scale.
The large and quick “scaling up” was successful because it captured another one of Bill’s other insights: “being a thought leader on the ground and at the very top.” From the beginning, the rollout of the 21st CCLC engaged hundreds of local people in planning, training and workshops. As the funding expanded, this quickly became thousands involved, and now in 2019 there are tens of thousands engaged in community learning centers and afterschool. Bill White and the Mott Foundation supported this rapid growth of the field every step of the way, and this continues today to both strengthen the field and the 21st CCLCs.
Another component of this initial rollout is very instructive, too. To increase the quality of the grant applications and expand access, the Mott Foundation helped support every state to hold bidder’s conferences that engaged those interested in locally funded afterschool and community education programs. This crucial action also brought many new players to the table. This generated applications for these new federal grants that far exceeded the funding that was available. This high demand “on the ground” in each state helped Congress and many Administrations to understand the bi-partisan value for increasing funding “at the very top” for afterschool, community-school partnerships and the 21st CCLCs.
Building on These Pillars and Bill’s Style
The commitment to community-school partnerships with family engagement was started by C. S. Mott in Flint in the 1930’s, continued and expanded by Bill White; and now is being brought into the next decade by Ridgway White. From my vantage point, this commitment and core guiding principles have stayed consistent for literally decades, while always looking to the future.
These principles, our infrastructure, and Bill’s powerful legacy are a call for all of us to do much more to improve. I hope you will join-in on building on them by:
• Relentlessly keep working for children, youth and their families.
• Engaging the community in the work.
• Remembering the power of school-family community partnerships.
• Helping local people realize their dreams and potential.
• Thinking big and being persistent.
About Terry Peterson: Terry was the Chief Counselor for former US Secretary of Education and Governor, Dick Riley. During his decades-long tenure in public service, Terry held senior state- and federal-level positions in which he developed numerous education policies and funding streams, including at the U.S. Department of Education where he helped create the 21st CCLC initiative. Terry currently serves on the board of the Afterschool Alliance and is also the executive editor of, Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning. He is also featured in the History of Afterschool in America documentary.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.