About Yes We Can: Building a Blueprint for Equity and Excellence in Mobile’s Schools
Yes We Can, one of MAEF’s best-known and most significant initiatives, is a structured and deliberative community engagement process designed to gather citizen input on issues related to the community and the schools that serve it. The process was created by Carolyn Akers and used first in Mobile after the historic tax referendum passed in 2001.
The goal of the first round of Yes We Can community conversations was convened to launch the creation of a genuinely community-driven, student-centered strategic plan for the Mobile County Public School System. Up until Yes We Can, the school district had created strategic plans, but without the insight and from a broad representation of cross-sector community participation. This strategic planning process was different; it was “co-owned” by the community and the school system.
Bolstered by what was then the new federal “No Child Left Behind” law, and motivated in large part by the Yes We Can Community Agreement that resulted from this community engagement, the Mobile County School Board joined forces with MAEF and the growing community school reform coalition. Together, they developed an unprecedented performance-based strategic plan for the school system, underscoring a shared commitment to making student achievement and organizational accountability their top priorities.
In 2003, at the end of that historic strategic planning process, another round of community engagement was convened across Mobile County to update and revisit the community-driven strategic plan. This new plan, called the PASSport to Excellence, was based on the Baldrige Quality standards, then considered the most rigorous and effective model for reshaping educational organizations to create high-performance results.
Then again in 2006, another round of Yes We Can engagement focused on 35 community meetings, starting September 28, 2006, that took place for seven consecutive Thursday nights across Mobile County. Each meeting, attended by stakeholders across a number of sectors in the community—including educators, parents, business and community leaders, students and higher education officials—served two purposes. The first objective of these community meetings was to take what Akers called a “victory lap,” acknowledging the changes made in the community and school system as a result of the 2001 tax increase. The second purpose was to tap citizen concerns and aspirations for what the school system needed to do next to meet their expectations for high-quality schools in Mobile County.
In addition to providing meaningful citizen engagement into education in Mobile County, the Yes We Can brand has become synonymous with citizen engagement that led to higher accountability for results that led to actual improvements in school and student performance. Because the process led to tangible and demonstrable results, cities across Alabama, including Birmingham and Dothan, as well as cities in states across the country, such as Baton Rouge, LA; Jacksonville, FL; and Oshkosh, WI, have used Yes We Can as model for engaging their own citizens in the process of improving their local public schools.