Fiscal Year 2020 in Review

Tena LatonaMission & Outcomes, Support

This fiscal year, we did it. That is the headline and the bottom line. 

It came with some bumps and bruises, a lot of lessons, some new tricks up our sleeves, and a whole lot of well-dones.  I’m so proud to be able to sit at my desk and write this email to you all. My heart is bursting – it always is. But when you sit down to write about all that happened in the longest and shortest 365 days EVER, it hits differently. We did a lot of good for our students, our educators, our mentors, each other, and our mission.

BCG x WITS 5-year strategic plan

Beginning in July, WITS worked with eight BCG staff members to develop a five-year strategic plan we started laying the foundation for in February 2019. Led by BCG, the work of the Board Steering Committee and Staff created a plan that will guide WITS’ next 30 years of success. This fiscal year, we took the first step in this plan by realigning the staff to allow for programmatic specific development and evaluation. The staff is optimistic about the changes and ready to use new skills and expertise to support the mission. In tandem with these changes, WITS will begin looking for an external evaluation partner in the coming months to help us grow our methodology and program results connected to reading-level growth and social-emotional growth.

ECSP Summer Programming – Summer 2020

WITS was able to fill the gap of early childhood education last summer as Chicago Public Schools (CPS) focused on programming for older students. In 2020, educators and parents from over 100 Chicago schools, early learning centers, and community organizations subscribed to receive email updates when new content was posted on our website. More than half of these participants were affiliated with organizations that were new to WITS – demonstrating the program’s reach beyond established WITS partners.

In total, there were over 11,000 views of the ECSP webpage and 5,700 views of ECSP videos. WITS provided a free sign-up for educators, families, and community members to receive printed ECSP Activity Packets. Nearly 50 people signed up to receive printed packets, and 11 of those were educators who requested printed packets for their entire classroom of students. WITS partnered with the Chicago Public Library Foundation to provide 4,000 ECSP activity packets at all 81 library branches across the city. These activity books were incorporated into the Library’s city-wide mobile van delivery, bundled with free books and play kits.

RLTA and Mentor programs

When it became clear that schools would not be opening in Fall 2020, WITS staff began figuring out how to deliver virtual programming. And FIGURE IT OUT is exactly they did. The key to this success was communicating to schools that WITS should be built into the literacy block of the classroom. As the largest provider of literacy programming to CPS, we needed to be consistent for our school partners throughout this extremely inconsistent year. Based on feedback from our partner schools, other organization executive directors, and other CPS contacts – WITS was the only program to deliver weekly virtual volunteer programs to CPS Elementary schools, and I believe it. WITS also maintained nearly all our school and corporate partnerships.

The change to focus RLTA on Study Group recruitment and open Summer Institute to all Illinois elementary teachers was the first decision of the Strategic Plan that we implemented. This resulted the manager of this program recruiting the largest Study Group cohort in a decade and having nearly the same number of teachers in the program as last year, even without the individual application. This is a tremendous success. Study Groups are very important to school/teacher community and are well supported by our funders.

The UnGala

WITS raised $515,000 at the UnGala, an event that was fully online. Wow, just wow. We are excited to have you all in person for the 30th Anniversary celebration of WITS at the Chicago Athletic Association on Saturday, December 11. Thank you to the WITS Staff and our dedicated sponsors for such a successful event.

As the CEO of WITS, I could not be more proud of the work that we have accomplished this fiscal year. The WITS Staff and our supporters have shown up for the students of Chicago and solidified the fact that reading matters.