Culture Change & Transformative Partnerships: A Regional Perspective

by Janelle Brown, Ellen Bohle, and Zachary Adams; Division of College, Career, and Technical Education

Tennessee Pathways believes that collaboration among stakeholder groups is necessary to develop high-quality pathways for all students. It can often be difficult to navigate and coordinate the very different worlds of school districts, higher education institutions, and employers, despite the mutual benefit to all stakeholders. Seamless vertical alignment among K-12, postsecondary programs, and career opportunities improves the enrollment of students in postsecondary programs while also improving career readiness. Students benefit from more timely completion of postsecondary degrees or credentials and increased employability in high-quality careers. The alignment of these opportunities must be the product of strategic and intentional collaboration across sectors. In Tennessee’s Northwest region, Justin Crice works to coordinate these strategic partnerships.

Justin Crice has served as the Pathways Northwest regional coordinator since September 2017. He first came to northwest Tennessee in 2016 and began working with disadvantaged communities in Dyer, Lake, and Obion counties through a non-profit.

“Through my time at this non-profit and seeing firsthand what economically disadvantaged actually means, I felt a calling to help students see better outcomes for themselves through transformative change,” he says of the experience. Moving into the work of Pathways was a natural transition. “The Pathways initiative is a vehicle to make those transformative opportunities a reality, and that vision is what drew me to join,” Crice says.

In his role, Crice engages and networks with regional stakeholders to ensure that all Northwest Tennesseans are prepared for careers in their communities by promoting pathways that are seamless, collaborative, and regionally relevant. This includes visiting and contacting stakeholders, writing grant applications, conducting research, and building workforce solutions for student success.

The work of Crice and others has already begun to change the culture surrounding student outcomes and career readiness. Crice is based at the University of Tennessee at Martin, where Chancellor Keith Carver is a champion of Tennessee Pathways and is actively involved in sharing the initiative’s message. Chancellor Carver worked with Crice to identify and involve directors of schools, leadership from area chambers of commerce, county mayors, regional leadership from state agency partners, and employers at the start of the regional initiative to make the effort truly collaborative and regionally relevant. Stakeholders in the region are coming to the table prepared to put in the hard work of building a three-year strategic plan and goals that will improve both K-12 and postsecondary opportunities for students. “Pathways has continued to grow and have a presence in the region,” says Crice. This continued growth helps to further engage regional partners and identify additional stakeholders who share the same passion for college and career readiness.

In his position, Crice has learned that regional partnerships cannot happen overnight and that culture change takes continuous effort. “It takes strong, consistent relationships with stakeholders to develop viable pathways for students that will lead to high-quality careers. We still have work to do establishing opportunities like work-based learning to give students first-hand exposure to the world of work, but a culture of positive student outcomes is taking root in the Northwest.”

By aligning K-12, postsecondary education, and employers, we can create transformative opportunities for students that prepare them to realize their full potential. For Justin Crice, this means helping students to explore their options for pathways early on. “I am excited to see students realize their career pathways options at younger ages by taking advantage of opportunities provided by local employers, and to see how Pathways initiatives across the state change the education landscape to preparing all students for careers.”

To learn more about building cross-sector partnerships in your area, visit the Tennessee Pathways website or follow us on Twitter @TN_Pathways.