CAT Spotlight – Gonzales

Bright Beginnings Community

Rene Mendez, Elizabeth Modena, and Michelle Slade are all integral members of the Bright Beginnings Gonzales Collaborative Action Team (CAT). Mendez works for the City of Gonzales as the City Manager, while Modena is the Superintendent for Gonzales Unified School District (GUSD), and Slade is the Gonzales CAT Facilitator who helps strategically with the partnership between the city and the education system.

For these leaders, an understanding that a partnership between the city and the school district would be a huge benefit started over a simple connection – lunch.

The relationship developed slowly, but coalesced when each wanted to build a community gymnasium. Neither the city nor the school district could afford the cost on their own. “We’re too small of a community to not be working together,” shared Modena “It just made sense.” The two community leaders decided to join forces to leverage funding and garner support from the state to create a shared space.

There was caution from others about this joint venture, and each shared that they did experience a few growing pains, but it was never a deal breaker. “We didn’t join just for the sake of joining,” explained Mendez. “Our partnership is based on trust. The city and school district have to work together to benefit the community as a whole.”

Through this partnership, they have laid a solid foundation to build from and to make a lasting impact in their community. “Now we’re at the point where we’re asking for help to analyze our data,” said Slade. “We want to identify community resources like licensed day care, preschools, and other agencies doing similar work, and create an inventory of what services are here and what more is needed.”

The CAT and other community leaders are working together to fully support early childhood development in their community. Following are highlights of emerging Collaborative Action Projects led by the City and District to improve early childhood development assets:

  • Kinder Family Festival – The City of Gonzales and GUSD are partnering to bring together resources for Gonzales families with children entering Kindergarten this Fall 2017 to successfully register for school and boost their school readiness.
  • KRA Predictive Analysis Pilot – GUSD is participating.
  • FFN Project – Recognizing many Gonzales families seek support from family, friends, and neighbors given limited availability of licensed, affordable care. Gonzales has set out to better understand how many families access care this way and what is needed to help the informal providers contribute to the kinder readiness of children in their care.

Modena shared that as much as the school district would like to solely tackle the above projects, they need support: “We can’t put 100% of our time on this issue. We have third graders, middle schoolers, and high schoolers to support and care for. The partnerships with the city – this was an easy connection. It’s all about the simple things we can do to make our actions stronger to benefit the future generation.”

In reflecting on their cooperative approach, both Mendez and Modena stressed that partnerships are not one-size-fits-all; you have to start with a simple connection before committing to projects together. What worked for Gonzales, moreover, might not work for other Peninsula communities, but you never know what will work unless you reach out to one of your community leaders. Mendez shared: “It’s one thing to talk, but how are you going to get in front of your leaders? Go and make a request to present your findings and/or results from your community to your city council, school board, or to your policy makers.”

Once you have made the connection(s), do not be afraid to fail together. “Figure out the models that will work with your partners,” shared Modena. “Try things and be flexible if things don’t work.” Taking this committed yet flexible approach, the Gonzales CAT has laid the groundwork for increased collaboration for the community to grow in ways that benefit everyone.

Slade shared a handful of exciting news and updates for this year, including the CAT’s creation of a data profile to better understand the services provided to the families of Gonzales and the launch of The Gonzales Way, a platform and resource center for advancing early childhood development in the community. While it continues to build its capacity, the Gonzales CAT has formed powerful partnerships to bring community leaders across Gonzales and the county to the table to create lasting change in their community.  

The video above shows the Gonzales Youth Council (GYC) facilitating Kindness Rules with Gonzales youth participating in the City Thanksgiving Break Day Camp. GYC is the official youth advisory to both the City Council and GUSD Board. The City Day Camp was established to further expand affordable, quality out-of-school-time care for Gonzales youth (a key GY21CSI strategy for ensuring Kinder Readiness and overall college and career readiness).