Returning To School Equitably Does Not Mean Returning To The Way We Were; It Means Returning Better

LaTisha Vaughn

LaTisha Vaughn

It is a miracle that any of us have remained together during the last few weeks. I write this blog as we are all experiencing in our own ways the impact of the deaths of more unarmed black people: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and the following unrest across the nation on the heels of a pandemic that seems to have no visible end.

Despite the events of the last few weeks, I continue to work, although focusing on “work” has been extremely difficult at times, but even more necessary. Necessary because I am an activist and someone who has fought for change, specifically in education, for my entire 25-plus-year career. Now, working at Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative, I am working differently. I am working on a system’s level, focused on mobilizing a community to disrupt a system that is doing exactly what it was meant to do. The education system and all the other systems in our country were never intended to serve people of color equitably. I am happy to see so many people waking up to this fact.

Through TCCC’s membership with STRIVE Together, a national network of collective impact organizations with similar missions, I have the amazing opportunity to be part of a group of remarkable individuals who make up a Racial Equity Action Team. I recently participated in a virtual affinity group, a subgroup of this team, that is focused on re-imagining education for our nation’s children. This work began prior to the unrest and seems even more timely now. As I listened to one of my colleagues who lives in Minneapolis describe how she was processing the most recent set of events with her two children, I thought about my own children.

My girls, ages 14 and 11, who despite their ages, have wisdom beyond their years. Two girls who have the CNN app on their electronic devices, and despite my intent to limit my own media intake for my own health and well-being, have kept me up to speed on many of the events happening across the country. My desires for my children are what I use to guide my desires for all children. If I would not want it for my children, I would never recommend it for other people’s children.

So, when asked to write a blog about what an equitable return to education should look like for our region’s children, my first response was, “I’ll just write about what I would recommend for my own children.” However, after further consideration, I recognized that it is not that simple. It is not that simple because although I am an African-American woman, my children have been afforded many privileges that others of my race do not have. Although my children have a form of privilege and are still seen as black, they have someone who knows how to navigate a system that was not built for their success, to get them what they need.

According to David Williams, Harvard professor of public health“‘ones’ zip code is a better predictor of health outcomes than a person’s genetic code.’”  This same principle also applies to education, wealth, food, and criminal justice outcomes. Before COVID-19, we knew systemic racism existed and we knew that the current policies and practices did not work for more than half of our regions’ children. This is evidenced by the years of regional data, compiled in Tri-County Cradle to Career’s Regional Educational Report, that highlights disparities in achievement between black, brown, and white children. We also have reports like The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, SC 2000-2015, produced by the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, that highlights other community disparities like health, housing, and criminal justice in the Black community.

So why would we want to return to these systems? Returning to normal is not acceptable.

Returning to education, the way our system operated pre-COVID, is not the goal. Returning to school equitably does not mean returning to the way we were, it means returning better. Questions that we as a community should consider important when thinking about returning better include:

  • How can we ensure all children, especially those most impacted by systemic racism, have access to the resources and support they need to thrive?
  • How do we ensure that the adults teaching our children are equipped to effectively teach and have courageous conversations with our students about myriad societal issues that people are currently protesting?
  • How are we meeting the social/emotional needs of families who are unsure about the safety of their children returning to school? What types of behavioral supports will be provided for children and families?
  • How are we ensuring all children and families have access to healthy food options?
  • Are we working with the health care community to ensure our families and children have access to quality health care?
  • What types of targeted academic support are we ready to provide children who were behind before COVID, may have fallen behind due to COVID, and are now experiencing summer learning loss on top of lost instructional time this year?
  • How are we continuing to partner with families and community-based organizations that have been teaching children in the gap?

These and other questions are ones that we should be posing, as a community, as we consider our return to education. We, meaning everyone in the community, not just those impacted the most, and not just minority communities. Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Or in my own words – what we do for other people’s children will never be enough unless it is good enough for our own children.

So, what does “better” look like? To me, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The varied needs of our children and families means we must imagine innovative solutions that fit the needs of our different communities. We should never be ok with going back to the way things were. However, “better” for me does look like one thing – it looks like one’s zip code NOT being a predictor of one’s life outcomes. It is just that simple. Until then, we still have work to do.

TCCC Board of Directors Welcomes Dondi E. Costin, PhD.

 Dondi E. Costin, PhD.

Dondi E. Costin, PhD.

Dondi E. Costin, PhD, is the President of Charleston Southern University, and elected to the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative Board of Directors for a three-year term.

Dr. Costin has a track record in key leadership positions with the U.S. Air Force, having obtained the rank of Major General in his 32 years of commissioned service.  He most recently served at The Pentagon as Air Force Chief of Chaplains.  As Chief of Chaplains, he was the senior pastor for more than 664,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian forces serving in the United States and overseas, and led 2,000 chaplains and chaplain assistants from the Air Force Chaplains Corps.

“Dr. Costin has become a major supporter of our pre-K through K-12 education system through the diverse curriculum offered to students at CSU and by his involvement with TCCC,” said Anita Zucker, CEO of The InterTech Group and chair of the TCCC Board of Directors. “He has gained a tremendous amount of knowledge since his arrival in Charleston as to the needs of our community.  We are thrilled to have his support.”

Dr. Costin grew up in Wilmington, N.C. and graduated from The United States Air Force Academy, retiring from the Air Force before assuming the CSU presidency.  As a decorated combat veteran, he deployed in support of numerous contingency and humanitarian relief operations across the globe and previously served as a senior chaplain for Air Force operations both in the Pacific and the Middle East.  His military decorations include the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Medal.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree in operations research, Dr. Costin holds five master’s degrees, a Doctor of Ministry degree, and a PhD in organizational leadership.  Dr. Costin currently lives in Charleston with his wife, Vickey.


TCCC staff is growing and changing

LaTisha Vaughn

LaTisha Vaughn

LaTisha Vaughn has been promoted as chief operations officer (COO).  Marcus Trinidad has transitioned from working for TCCC as an AmeriCorps VISTA to a permanent full-time position as collective impact project manager. Mary Butz has joined the staff as administration and operations coordinator.

For the past two years, Vaughn has served as director of networks. As COO, she will oversee daily operations and administrative functions, creating a results-driven culture that is rooted in continuous quality improvement and collective impact. Reporting to the chief executive officer, Vaughn will work with staff and volunteers ensuring effective communication, policies, procedures and strategy that align with TCCC’s mission and vision.

Vaughn previously owned and operated Engineering for Kids Charleston and owned her own consulting business. She also served as director of education initiatives with Charleston Promise Neighborhood, assistant associate superintendent for the Charleston County School District and principal of North Charleston Elementary School.

Marcus Trinidad

She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Missouri, a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Park College, now Park University, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Georgia State University.

Trinidad came to TCCC last summer as a full-time AmeriCorps VISTA member after graduating from Oregon State University (OSU). As a VISTA, he worked to improve knowledge and awareness of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) among school district staff and the community. His skills and knowledge in data management, collective impact and racial equity proved highly valuable, and he was offered and accepted a permanent position.

Trinidad will report to TCCC’s COO. His new duties include management of collective impact projects, supporting the work of TCCC’s Kindergarten Readiness and Future Ready networks, researching and sharing best practice models, and establishing shared data, measurement and accountability for projects throughout the organization.

Trinidad graduated from OSU with bachelor’s degrees in mathematical economics and political science and a minor in statistics. He served as editor-in-chief for the school newspaper, The Daily Barometer. Additionally, Trinidad interned for U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and for Portland’s Black Male Achievement initiative.

Mary Butz

Butz moved to Charleston in 2005 with her former husband and two children.  Together, they built Allied Reliability Group. In addition to Allied, Butz has experience working in the computer information systems, networking, web design, food and beverage, and real estate industries. She has a master’s degree in computer information systems from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, gardening, taking care of her two fur babies and traveling with her husband, Logan.

TCCC Board of Directors welcomes Kenya Dunn

Kenya Dunn

Kenya Dunn

Kenya Dunn, a motivational speaker, mentor and CEO of The Power Filled Woman, was recently elected to the Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative Board of Directors for a three-year term.

Dunn has held executive leadership positions in customer service and retail organizations, including T-Mobile, where she built high performing teams. She has helped countless people grow their own careers and launch their own businesses. Dunn has spent the last several years mentoring and coaching minorities and women to lead at higher levels. She firmly believes that it is her responsibility as one of a few minority women executives to chart the course for others.

“I am honored to welcome Kenya Dunn to the TCCC board. With Kenya’s corporate executive experience combined with her motivational and mentoring experience, she will be an excellent asset to our board,” said Anita Zucker, CEO of The InterTech Group and chair of the TCCC Board of Directors. “I’m confident that her experience, leadership and perspective will enrich the Board in the years to come.”

Dunn grew up in Augusta, Georgia to a single mother. She graduated from the University of Phoenix with a bachelor’s degree in management. Her professional career has taken her from Augusta, Georgia, to Charleston, Atlanta and Chicago. She currently lives in Charleston with her husband and their two children.

Lowcountry Center for Educational Leadership’s launch announced

Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative (TCCC) and the Low Country Education Consortium (LCEC), a collaboration of superintendents from the tri-county region’s four school districts, are pleased to announce the launch of the Lowcountry Center for Educational Leadership (LCEL). The Center will create a pipeline of trained and certified principal candidates who are ready to fill vacancies as they occur within the school districts.

“Having a core of well-trained and ready instructional leaders in our region is central to the work my superintendent colleagues and I have undertaken,” said Dr. Gerrita Postlewait, superintendent of the Charleston County School District, in announcing the launch. “We are extraordinarily grateful to the LCEL’s Founding Sponsors, Blackbaud, Volvo Car, Robert Bosch and the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, for their support.”

“We are pleased to be a part of this important collaboration among our four superintendents. In our work to see that all children in the region secure a high-quality education, the role principals play is pivotal,” said Phyllis Martin, TCCC’s chief executive officer. TCCC was supportive in the formation of the LCEC in 2016 and continues to act as fiscal agent and fundraiser for this project.

Two years ago, the LCEC initiated this project to create a pipeline of aspiring principals ready and qualified to fill vacancies within the districts. High turnover, especially in the region’s most challenging schools, too often led to individuals being placed in these positions who were not yet ready for the daunting challenges. The superintendents were determined to do something about it.

After a national search was conducted by TCCC, with support from the Wallace Foundation, on behalf of the superintendents, the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership (CEL) was selected to provide the evidence-based training program.

“Strong school leaders are essential to student success.  We know that well-defined leadership competencies, rigorous hiring processes and robust professional learning opportunities for school leaders positively impacts student learning.  Students benefit when we invest in talented leaders,” said Joe Pye, superintendent for Dorchester School District Two.

The LCEL’s training initiative has three components. The first component began last summer when 45 sitting principals from the four school districts began a year-long training conducted by CEL which was paid for entirely by the school districts. A second component will provide training for principal supervisors and will be delivered in the future.

The third component is the development of the aspiring principals training that will yield candidates who are not only state-certified, but well-equipped with the skills and dispositions to be principals. Candidates for this program would be identified by each district, and individuals completing the program will be in a candidate pool from which candidates will be given strong consideration to fill vacancies within each district. The program development is being supported by consultants working with CEL faculty and by representatives of all four districts to assure a common study program while still being responsive to the distinctive qualities of each district.

“I am excited about the potential that a talent development pipeline has for our region.  The tremendous community support that exists here from business and industry is a competitive advantage for the region,” said Dr. Kelvin Wymbs, superintendent of Dorchester School District Four.

With initial funding now secured, the superintendents plan a public campaign targeting private philanthropists and the business community to support the next projects of the LCEL.

“Our business leaders in Berkeley County and across the region know better than anyone how important it is to have strong principals for our schools, and they are the beneficiaries of effective public education,” said Dr. Eddie Ingram, superintendent of the Berkeley County School District. “When we call on them, I am confident they will respond as Blackbaud, Bosch, Volvo and others have done.”

Once fully established, the LCEL is intended to be self-funded through tuitions paid by the districts.

About the Low Country Education Consortium

The Low Country Education Consortium (LCEC) is comprised of four superintendents: Dr. Eddie Ingram, Berkeley County School District; Dr. Gerrita Postlewait, Charleston County School District; Joe Pye, Dorchester School District Two; and Dr. Kelvin Wymbs, Dorchester School District Four. The LCEC was formed in 2016 to create common agendas to serve the more than 100,000 children in public education in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.

Vaughn and Lawrence chosen to present at Collective Impact Convening

LaTisha Vaughn

Amanda Lawrence, TUW

TCCC’s LaTisha Vaughn and Trident United Way’s Amanda Lawrence have been chosen to present at the 2020 Collective Impact Convening event May 6-8, 2020, in Minneapolis, MN. Their proposal, addressing “authentic engagement,” was chosen by the Collective Impact Forum from more than 120 submitted proposals.

Vaughn and Lawrence submitted and were chosen to present their session, entitled “Engaging vs. Engagement” which explores the differences between “planning for” versus “planning with” a community that has its own lived experiences.

“For too long, organizations, although well intended, have planned for communities instead of planning with communities to solve problems,” said LaTisha Vaughn, TCCC’s Director of Networks.

“Communities of need do not lack insight into their barriers, challenges or solutions, they lack critical connections and resources to be able to effectively create and implement solutions.”

Planning with communities in need ensures that critical insight and first-hand, lived experiences lead to the right issues or barriers being tackled. It ensures the community is empowered to find solutions that work for them rather than an organization supporting a pre-determined and uninformed solution for a community.

Vaughn and Lawrence’s presentation will also explore tools and techniques to ensure authentic community engagement, creating initiatives using a lens of equity, and knowledge of what best practices work well and what roadblocks to avoid to maintain momentum for community engagement and improvement.

The Collective Impact Forum, an initiative of FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions, supports the efforts of those who are practicing collective impact in the field. This year’s Collective Impact Convening will build on the success of the 2019 convening in Chicago that sold out in advance and attracted more than 800 funders, backbone leaders, and other collective impact community partners.

Congratulations Vaughn and Lawrence!

Remember TCCC on Giving Tuesday

Imagine you had a child entering kindergarten unprepared. I don’t mean without a backpack, but without the basic skills of how to hold a pencil, color within the lines, or identify simple ABCs. Sadly, in the past two years alone, more than 9,000 of our area’s children arrived for their first day of kindergarten just like this – fully unprepared to begin what should be an exciting time in their lives.

A solid education that begins in kindergarten and continues through middle school, high school, college, and beyond will provide children with the tools they need to reach their full potential.  Unfortunately, for thousands of our region’s children, circumstances beyond their control create barriers to education success. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

At Tri County Cradle to Career Collaborative (TCCC) we work to improve the odds for our children so they have a chance to succeed. By partnering as a community, aligning and leveraging resources, implementing transformative initiatives, and collectively working to change policies and systems that have created these barriers in the first place, we can make a difference and revolutionize the tri-county area. There is no better time to support this transformation than today, December 3, Giving Tuesday. 

Transformation is powerful and implies dramatic change is on the horizon. Not just any change, but the kind required to create equity in education that is necessary for all children to reach their full potential. Getting this right means our community will reap the benefits and our youth will be prepared for the 21st century workforce. This is the work of Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative.

As TCCC’s new CEO, I personally invite you to join the movement to ensure all our children are afforded an equal opportunity to succeed. Support TCCC on #GivingTuesday. Every donation, no matter how large or small, does make a difference.


Phyllis Martin


How To Donate to Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative

  1. Through the StriveTogether Giving Tuesday 2019 campaign. Click on the orange Donate button, follow the prompts, and your contribution will come directly to us.

  2. On TCCC’s website donation page. Click on the yellow Donate button under Ways to Give and follow the prompts. You can donate on TCCC’s website anytime, not just on Giving Tuesday!

Academic Magnet High and Military Magnet Academy named champions of TCCC’s College Cash Campaign

Awards recognize schools’ efforts to build a college-going culture by
exceeding FAFSA completion goals

Academic Magnet High School and Military Magnet Academy have been named champions of Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative’s College Cash Campaign for increasing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) completion rates by at least 5 percentage points. Academic Magnet received “MVP” honors after leading the entire school district with 83 percent completion. Military Magnet’s 71 percent completion rate and its 9-percentage-point improvement from last year won them the “Most Improved” designation.

TCCC’s Future Ready Network launched the College Cash Campaign to provide support for tri-county high schools during the 2018-2019 school year, with the goal of increasing FAFSA completion and college enrollment rates. TCCC staff worked alongside school guidance counselors, administrators and teachers to build a college-going culture, host financial aid literacy workshops and outreach events, and provide FAFSA completion and college application assistance.

“Completing FAFSA is a pivotal part in many students’ decision to attend college because it tells them the Federal scholarships and grants to which they are already entitled,” said John C. Read, TCCC’s chief executive officer.  “We can do better as a community to encourage our students, particularly those who are in the greatest need, to take advantage of Federal and state supports for a postsecondary education.”

In 2019, only 52 percent of tri-county students filled out the FAFSA application, and even fewer students from high schools in low-income areas applied for financial assistance.

Filling out the FAFSA is the first step for students to access federal grants and loans as well as both state and institutional grants and scholarships. FAFSA funds can be used to pay for tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies.

The 2020–21 FAFSA form is now available for students to complete. Some states and schools have limited funds, so students should talk with their school’s guidance counselor or visit the FAFSA website at to apply as soon as possible.


TCCC launches CQI Initiative for local childhood service providers

Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative (TCCC) and national consulting group Root Cause recently launched the Tri-County Continuous Quality Improvement Initiative to provide coaching and strengthen evidence-based results for seven local early childhood service providers.

With funding from The Duke Endowment, the initiative will take the seven participating organizations through a 12- to 15-month continuous quality improvement (CQI) process to collect, analyze and use data to improve the quality of services being delivered. Root Cause will help the providers strengthen their capacity to collect and use data and improve their programs, with the ultimate goal being to increase kindergarten readiness among children in the community.

“This CQI initiative is another step being taken to strategically align with the work of the Kindergarten Readiness Network convened by the Trident United Way and sponsored by TCCC, to achieve the goal that all children are ready for kindergarten regardless of race or zip code,” said Thetyka  Robinson, TCCC’s Director of Facilitation.

The organizations selected to participate in the CQI initiative are Communities in Schools Charleston; Father to Father, Inc.; Berkeley County First Steps; Charleston County First Steps; Dorchester County First Steps; Florence Crittenton; and PCIT (Parent-Child Interaction Therapy) Charleston. These organizations provide services in planned and well-timed pregnancies, healthy births, on-track development, school readiness by kindergarten and success by third grade, as well as other services.  The programs directly serve families in Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester and two other counties in South Carolina.

The goals of the CQI initiative are to help childhood service organizations build capacity to collect and use data in ways that go beyond compliance with funder requirements or other external performance standards; be intentional about clarity of vision, goals, and measurement; improve communication within and across teams; and create a culture that fosters learning and a spirit of inquiry.

TCCC announces Phyllis Martin as new CEO

Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative announces the appointment of Phyllis Martin as its next chief executive officer (CEO).

Martin joins TCCC after three years as the vice president of Community Impact for the United Way of Northeastern Florida in Jacksonville, Fla. Prior to that, Martin served as the vice president of Impact Strategies for the United Way of Greenville County in Greenville, S.C. She is replacing John C. Read who has served as CEO for the past five years and had advised TCCC’s board one year ago of his intent to step down.

“I am very pleased that Phyllis has agreed to take the helm of our organization and continue the work to assure that every child, from cradle to career is able to succeed,” said TCCC Board Chair Anita Zucker.  “Phyllis’ experiences working in leadership positions for large, regional United Way organizations will serve her well in connecting with education stakeholders in the Lowcountry.”

Darrin Goss, CEO of Coastal Community Foundation who chaired the TCCC CEO search committee, said Martin stood out as someone with a distinctive ability to build lasting relationships throughout the community given her experience across multiple sectors.

Martin was elected CEO at the board meeting held October 16 and will also serve as a member of the board of directors. She will step into her new role effective November 18.