Cornelius Hogan, Vermont Secretary of Human Services
On collaborating with Rick Mills, the former commissioner of education: "Rick had been here for several years, and he began to talk about how badly the state needed to put together a process where there was a stronger relationship between education and human services. He challenged us by asking 'How can you help families and children be more ready for school?' We toured the state. At one point, I spent more time over the course of two months with Rick than I did with my wife. What Rick and I did was develop a climate where people began to work together.
"I truly believe we have gotten far enough along on this now that it is not a function of personality anymore. The energy unleashed in local communities has reached the point that if you wanted to stop it, you couldn't. If we can find four or five communities that can push the collaboration as far as they can, the communities next door will see it and take off."
On replicating Vermont's work: "I don't disagree that it's easier in Vermont. We have a very strong community town-meeting type of ethic up here. But that doesn't mean it can't be done elsewhere. If we can show this kind of behavior changes results for families and kids, there will be something there to be learned."
On the governor's executive order: "We've been successful in being able to slow down any kind of process that affects the collaboration in local areas. There was an honest concern not just from Morrisville but from people across the state. They played a part in helping us to come up with a better way."
Dennis Kane, Policy Director of the family and education-support team for the Vermont Department of Education
"There are community members who believe in and are working in the direction of systems change. But I think, even in our best examples, we are still working with a core group.
"One of the challenges will be managing the growth of all these collaborations.
"Now, each one of these categories--whether sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy, child welfare--has its own political base. When you go to a more integrated kind of community system, you run the risk of losing that base."
Cheryl Mitchell, Deputy Secretary, Vermont Agency of Human Services
"There has been a huge desire to make this work. The real obstacle has been people's time to do joint planning. It has also depended on whether people felt supported. At the school level, it has depended very heavily on the character and attitudes of principals and special-services providers.
"Some special educators and school boards feel we are expanding schools' responsibilities. They have fears about what will happen when Medicaid is gone--how will the schools pay for this. There are just so many questions given the federal climate right now."
Vol. 15, Issue 15