Louisville Case

This case documents the first 18 months of Louisville’s participation in By All Means and includes its activities through May 2017. We are hoping that city leaders and others will use this piece to understand how opportunities and obstacles unfold within specific contexts. Each city in the consortium is unique: Louisville is BAM’s largest city, is the only city located in the South, and has faced several external challenges during early phases of the initiative, including a transition in school district leadership and Kentucky’s first charter school legislation.


Louisville Metro is Kentucky’s largest metropolitan area, with approximately 760,000 residents. In 2003, Louisville and Jefferson County merged into a single governance structure, with one mayor serving the new jurisdiction. The area is unusual in that its county-based school system has enabled its efforts to desegregate, meaning that urban and suburban children often attend the same schools. A 2015 article in The Atlantic describing these ongoing efforts suggested that Louisville’s economically and racially integrated schools are a large part of the reason for its economic vitality.1

In recent years, Louisville has seen its national and international reputation rise as it has been given top marks in areas ranging from business climate and good governance to food and music. Among its many recent accolades are being named the country’s top city for manufacturing by Forbes, a top ten food city by National Geographic, and a top ten city for homeownership by BankRate. Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer has also been recognized: he was named one of America’s most interesting mayors by Politico and awarded a 2016 National Education Pathways with a Purpose award by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Despite these successes, the city has continued to grapple with disparities in outcomes among children. Test scores and graduation rates for Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) have been rising steadily since Kentucky’s most recent accountability system was enacted by law in 2012. However, JCPS results for the 2015-2016 school year show that, in spite of slight improvements over the prior year on a number of measures, significant achievement gaps remain between specific subgroups.2

The Birth of Louisville’s Vision for a Cradle to Career System

When Greg Fischer was elected to his first term as mayor of Louisville in 2010, he made improving education and lifelong learning one of his three primary goals for the city. This commitment reflected a long-held understanding in the Louisville metro area that education and workforce preparedness are key drivers of prosperity. An Education Roundtable, created by Louisville’s previous mayor in 2008, worked with the local Business Leaders for Education to set an ambitious goal in July 2009: by 2020, 50 percent of Louisville’s working-age population would hold an associate degree or higher. A new public-private partnership called 55,000 Degrees, with the support of Mayor Fischer, took on responsibility for this goal, which would require adding 55,000 two- and four-year degrees to the Louisville population.

A few years later, JCPS adopted a new five-year strategic plan, Vision 2020, which seeks to develop and implement structures supporting social, emotional, and intellectual knowledge and skills so that students can thrive in college, career, community, and life. The plan included targets on kindergarten readiness, early literacy, and college/career readiness.

Mayor Fischer, seeing the alignment between the priorities of JCPS (as authored in Vision 2020), 55,000 Degrees (as authored in 2010 Greater Louisville Education Commitment), and the Business Leaders for Education (who sought an educated workforce for the city’s prosperity), aimed to broaden and deepen the work by establishing a framework that could thread these elements together into a cohesive, cradle-to-career pipeline for Louisville youth.

Joining By All Means

In October of 2015, Mayor Fischer attended a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Boston and presented his work on Louisville’s Cradle to Career Initiative. The initiative, which Fischer had launched in January that year, sought “to establish a systematic approach to support lifelong learning and success in the Louisville community” by using shared data to identify gaps, barriers, and opportunities for alignment of services from early childhood to college and career. Under the initiative, Fischer created four “pillars” of the work with lead organizations that were responsible for identifying key metrics and strategies for the city’s need in each area: Kindergarten Readiness, led by Metro United Way; K-12 Success, led by JCPS; Postsecondary Transition and Completion, led by 55,000 Degrees; and 21st Century Workforce and Talent, led by KentuckianaWorks.

At the same meeting, Paul Reville presented an overview of his newly formed Education Redesign Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and outlined its comprehensive children’s opportunity agenda. The Lab was preparing to launch its By All Means (BAM) initiative and was looking for partner cities to participate as “laboratories” of innovation. These laboratories, Reville hoped, would work to reimagine and implement new, personalized systems of education and youth development, focusing on expanding access to out-of-school learning, integrating health and social services into schools, and individualizing education to suit the needs of every child.

After learning about By All Means, Fischer returned to Louisville and shared the opportunity with Superintendent Donna Hargens. They were joined by Mary Gwen Wheeler, Executive Director of 55,000 Degrees, who had been exploring a partnership with Say Yes to Education to establish a holistic support system for college and career readiness in Louisville. For Fischer, Hargens, and Wheeler, the alignment between BAM, Say Yes, and their local work was clear: soon after, Louisville opted to pursue both partnerships simultaneously.

Getting Started

Forming the Cabinet

In Louisville, the Children’s Cabinet—known locally as the Cradle to Career Cabinet—initially operated to formalize the work of the four pillar leads. Initial cabinet members included at least one high-ranking representative from the pillar lead organizations—Metro United Way, JCPS, 55,000 Degrees, and KentuckianaWorks—in addition to Mayor Fischer, Superintendent Hargens, and representatives from the school board, city government, healthcare, higher education, and many local nonprofits, businesses, and foundations. Karen Wunderlin, a change-management expert with strong local ties, joined the team as the cabinet’s BAM-sponsored consultant in June of 2016. The first cabinet meeting took place shortly thereafter.

Defining the Work

Behavioral Health
The behavioral health working group formed in response to early cabinet discussions around the city and school’s unmet needs in this area. The group collectively identified the high and increasing number of suspensions in recent years—coupled with stark racial disparities in both absolute numbers and percentages and in students’ alternative school placements—as the first challenge they wanted to address through their BAM work. The group began meeting biweekly and sought to outline a data-driven pilot project that would address the social-emotional needs of JCPS students. Membership included leaders from JCPS, the school board, city government, Centerstone of Kentucky (a behavioral healthcare provider), 55,000 Degrees, Metro United Way, institutions of higher education, local foundations, and community organizations.
By the time of the May 2017 BAM convening, the focus of the behavioral health working group had shifted away from system-wide comprehensive solutions in favor of piloting a specific intervention. As a result, the behavioral health working group had transitioned from Wunderlin’s purview to that of Alicia Averette, Assistant Superintendent of Academic Support Programs at JCPS. Together with the Division Director of Child and Family at Centerstone and the Coordinator of Social Emotional Learning at JCPS, Averette led the effort between working group meetings to develop and implement a pilot program at Carrithers Middle School, a school representative of Louisville’s overall student population. A pilot, the team hoped, would allow the behavioral health team to establish a proof point that, if successful, could be brought to the cabinet for potential widespread adoption.
Shared Governance
By late 2016 it became increasingly clear that Louisville faced unexpected financial roadblocks to becoming an official Say Yes city. As a result, the cabinet shifted its focus to formalizing a shared governance structure around Louisville’s Cradle to Career work. The cabinet agreed that its goals remained a priority and that it was consequently important to ensure the sustainability of their collective work regardless of the Say Yes outcome. As Mayor Fischer recounted, “We started the whole Cradle to Career process with informal governance. Formalizing that now and changing the funding stream for the collective impact model is going to just give [the work] a lot more capacity. So, it's a logical next step.”
The cabinet focused its February 2017 retreat on defining its goals and what shared governance model was needed to reach them. From that meeting, the cabinet emerged with a working structure (see Structure and Process) and a statement defining its desired result. This included committing to move forward with implementing the Say Yes theory of action and to contact with the Weiss Institute. At the same time, the cabinet launched its shared governance working group headed by the President and CEO of Metro United Way and began work to build the enablers of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) formalizing each stakeholder organization’s commitment to the cabinet’s work. The cabinet also pursued a data-sharing agreement between the city government, the schools, and the Weiss Institute that would allow the cabinet to analyze spending and determine how well expenditures matched Louisville’s goals for children.

Elements Affecting Success


A Mayoral Priority

Mayor Fischer’s top goals for Louisville are making it a city of lifelong learning, making it a much healthier city, and making it an even more compassionate community. With education as one of the mayor’s top priorities, the Louisville team has enjoyed his enthusiasm and support in moving the work forward. As one top health official noted: “We're a city government that I think functions, as most cities do, on what's happening at the top, and he has the bully pulpit to talk about education. He discusses education often and really talks about it from cradle to career.”

District Leadership Change

By the end of 2016, Superintendent Hargens’ relationship with some members of the board of education had become strained: several newly-elected members of the board campaigned on a platform calling for new leadership for the department. Around the same time, the Kentucky Department of Education initiated a state audit of the school system. In April 2017, Superintendent Hargens announced her intention to resign effective July 2017.

Despite a leadership change in a critical role—the Louisville Superintendent—the BAM work proceeded with little interruption. Several Louisville team members attributed this to the strong momentum and the buy-in of all parties involved in BAM work (see Moving at the Speed of Trust).

Focus on Governance

Louisville has uniquely prioritized building governance structures and a shared vision for the work that will be sustainable over time. The team has achieved an effective, high-output effort through the use of a pre-existing backbone organization (55,000 Degrees); formal structures, processes, and action-oriented agendas; formal roles for notetakers and timekeepers; and broad stakeholder buy-in.

Structure and Process
During the cabinet’s early period, cabinet membership grew with every meeting as more and more stakeholders were brought to the table. While this inclusivity was conducive to generating broad stakeholder buy-in, it was also unsustainable: with up to 30 attendees at cabinet meetings, it was far too cumbersome to discuss an entire agenda. Thus, at the cabinet’s February 2017 half-day retreat, the group decided it was time to pare official cabinet membership down to a size that would facilitate a reasonable amount of progress during meetings, while also ensuring the cabinet was reflective of the larger community. As a result of the retreat, the Louisville team settled on both a tentative membership list as well as a new structure.

After their February 2017 retreat, Louisville emerged with a new structure: the cabinet itself would include only chief executives of stakeholder organizations, with provisions for designees to attend if the principal member could not. Cabinet members could bring additional staff from their organizations, but those staff would not sit at the table. This setup would allow the group to clearly determine who is on the cabinet, but also enable critical staff to share updates with the cabinet and stay up-to-date on cabinet work.

An important component of the new structure was the creation of the “core team,” comprising select cabinet members and staff. While the Cradle to Career Cabinet would meet every three weeks, the core team would meet weekly and ensure critical work was carried forward. This group would set cabinet agendas, complete specific action items, and oversee the various working groups tasked with specific aspects of the cabinet’s work, such as behavioral health, data, creating college scholarships, and governance.

Incorporating Pre-existing Local Work
The Louisville team built upon pre-existing collective impact work by 55,000 Degrees and the other Cradle to Career pillars, which had already built the collaborative muscle of cross-sector work in Louisville. 55,000 Degrees, the only independently funded backbone organization in this space, stepped up to “project manage” the cabinet’s efforts, while the pillar leads took on core team or working group leadership roles.

The Role of Equity

Louisville is acutely aware that the leadership team does not reflect the racial diversity of the students and families served by JCPS. While the cabinet was growing, new additions came from organizations identified as having a potential role in the cabinet’s efforts; by December 2016, however, several Louisville team members voiced the need for more adequate representation of the community—the cabinet needed more racial diversity. As Jonathan Lowe, Director of Strategy for JCPS, described during an interview: “It's a problem of our community leadership structure, where if you're picking people based on their position, you're going to get a lot of white folks. You’ve got to think about that. And we’ve got to think about how we're going to incorporate representation for families and kids that we want to serve…. You have to have relationships and build trust. And one of the ways that you do that is make sure that your leadership team reflects the community at large.”

As the team continues to develop and evolve, it is intentionally and thoughtfully working to address this leadership issue, particularly since the pursuit of racial equity in opportunities, supports, and outcomes is an explicit central component of Louisville’s work. Additionally, the Weiss Institute’s partnership with the National Equity Institute to analyze racial equity in Louisville is expected to provide increased support around the cabinet’s larger racial equity goals; a team member noted that they would be able to help facilitate conversations about race and provide recommendations on how the cabinet should approach the issue.

Partnerships and Relationships

Aligning Multiple New Partnerships

Because Louisville entered the BAM partnership while simultaneously exploring becoming a Say Yes city, the initial efforts of the cabinet folded into the city’s Say Yes planning efforts. As Wheeler describes, they were initially balancing “having this parallel path of Say Yes and By All Means, where we were basically trying to create our first project in one of the BAM focus areas, but in a way that would organize us [to reflect how] we might end up functioning if we were a Say Yes city.” As a result, the cabinet launched two initial efforts in the fall of 2016: an asset-mapping project and a behavioral health working group. The asset mapping, while prioritized as part of the Say Yes planning process, would benefit the BAM work as well: it was meant to identify existing gaps in community services for Louisville children. The behavioral health project, launched as Louisville’s first BAM focus area, would similarly inform the Say Yes work.

Around the time the Louisville cabinet had committed to continue its work—with or without an official Say Yes partnership—Say Yes was finalizing its newly formed Weiss Institute, which aimed to provide traditional Say Yes support to cities without the immense financial commitment involved in its last-dollar scholarship model. Parallel to the efforts of the shared governance working group, Wheeler continued to engage Say Yes in conversations around becoming the Weiss Institute’s first partner city; doing so would provide Louisville with much of the support it sought around data systems, financial analysis, asset mapping, and governance, funded jointly by Say Yes and philanthropic support. By the time of the third BAM convening in late May 2017, Louisville was preparing to sign its contract with the Weiss Institute.

Cross-Sector Relationships

After the May 2017 convening, 92 percent of the Louisville team reported that they collaborate more with other agencies and organizations in their cities after having joined By All Means. These stronger relationships have been key to enabling the work to push forward in spite of challenges, and have allowed for more unexpected collaboration between agencies in ways that truly benefit Louisville children.

Lowe described one such instance that occurred in partnership with Yvette Gentry, former Chief of Community Building for Louisville Metro Government and retired Deputy Chief of Police: "JCPS recently bought a building to use as an early childhood site, and it has a gymnasium. Yvette Gentry approached me and said, 'We need a place for kids to go. Can we use your gymnasium?' There was some back and forth, but Dr. Hargens thought it was a pretty good idea. So we made it happen and [Gentry] was telling me that there were 300 kids there on Saturday night. I mean, that's a lot of kids that are not somewhere else."

Because Lowe and Gentry had developed a working relationship attending cabinet meetings and BAM convenings, a new collaboration in service of children took place between the city and the school district that might not have otherwise occurred—or at least not occurred as quickly.

The Mayor/Superintendent Relationship
When Louisville joined By All Means, Mayor Fischer and Superintendent Hargens had already established a strong working relationship. Despite the absence of a formal role for the mayor in the education system, the two held regular meetings to identify joint priorities and update each other on progress in areas of overlapping interest.
Moving at the Speed of Trust
The new and strengthened working relationships between city officials, school officials, and other stakeholders have also been critical in sustaining momentum amidst policy and leadership changes, particularly as Louisville navigated the transition from Superintendent Hargens to Interim Superintendent Marty Pollio. The public announcement of Pollio's new role was published just one day before the May convening, and while he was not in attendance at this convening, he was scheduled to attend his first cabinet meeting alongside Hargens in June 2017. Hargens and Pollio would spend a month working together in June, during which time Pollio would learn about the school district's involvement in the BAM, Say Yes, and Weiss Institute work.
Thanks in part to the strong working relationships between city and school officials on the core team and in early iterations of the cabinet, Louisville team members felt confident that JCPS would remain a partner in the work despite the change in leadership. As one participant shared, “If [the change in leadership] had happened in June of 2016, we might have had to stop working until they got a new person on board and they brought that person up to speed, but there's so much happening now. We had enough forward momentum that the work continued.”
These relationships have also been important as Louisville navigates implementation of Kentucky’s first charter school bill, and the granting of authorizing power to the mayor. During the May 2017 convening in Cambridge, the Louisville team acknowledged that these developments had created tensions between the mayor’s office and JCPS. The consensus among Louisville’s convening team was that the charter bill had strained, but not broken, the relationships and trust between those agencies.

External Factors: Lab Support


Given the crowded landscape involving Louisville’s Cradle to Career Initiative, Say Yes to Education, the Weiss Institute, and By All Means, the cabinet’s consultant was critical to keeping Louisville’s BAM work in focus and on track. An expert in change management, Wunderlin’s early involvement included handling the logistical aspects of cabinet meetings (setting agendas, coordinating schedules, etc.) as well as facilitating the cabinet meetings. Further, Wunderlin played a role in coordinating other aspects of the work at various points, including the asset-mapping project, the behavioral health working group, and the core team. This not only resulted in her working longer hours, but also meant she was “the glue holding it all together,” according to one cabinet member.

Wunderlin was also instrumental in planning and facilitating the February 2017 retreat that allowed the cabinet to refine its membership, structure, and processes. As Wheeler shared: “Karen has been tremendous at helping us gel and form us with some purpose. Moving to the retreat was part of her change management philosophy. I think it's been great to have that kind of facilitation.” With the end of year one approaching, Wunderlin knew it was time to take a step back: "The early work was so important and the extra energy was necessary given its size and complexity, but Louisville now had enough momentum that I, as a neutral facilitator, could step back." Over the course of spring 2017, Wunderlin began phasing out her involvement in all meetings that weren't official cabinet meetings.


Cohort Model
For Louisville, the convenings are an important way to learn more about what the other cities are doing. As one participant shared, “What I have found about my time in that things really get pushed forward when there's an attachment to a cohort model. By All Means really provides us a space to create with other cities, see what they're doing, and push forward because they're pushing forward.”
City team members also enjoy the convenings because of the opportunity to compare notes on challenges and successes with those who share similar roles in other cities. Ashley Parrott, ‎Senior Policy and Development Advisor in Mayor Fischer's office, emphasized that she would like to see much more of the cross-city collaboration: “I would love to connect even more with the other mayor's offices to discuss our strengths and challenges as we move this work forward. From a mayor’s office staff perspective, I want to know ‘what are we doing well?’ and ‘where can we make improvements?’ It helps me determine if we are going down the right path as a city.”
Superintendent Hargens echoed these sentiments. "It's like the Lab is exactly what we need. And of course, we've had this framework, but talking to other people who are trying to do the same thing is huge because we're all solving the same problem. It's 'how do you do this?' And I know there are different sizes of districts represented there, but it's essentially the same work."
The second major draw of the convenings was the access to expertise, which informed the work of Louisville’s “team time." Hearing Paul Reville, Ron Heifetz, and other Harvard experts discuss the issues specific to their efforts allows the work to move forward using knowledge and best practices from neutral third parties. As Parrott shared: “We broke up our team time based on our city’s needs to move the work forward. We had an early childhood expert work with us to address our early childhood needs. We also had a behavioral health group that formed to help us determine the additional social and emotional supports needed for students to succeed. And then we had a conversation about asset mapping. Team time gave us the opportunity to dive deeper into our work and strengthen relationships among our leadership, which is very important.”
During the May 2017 meeting in particular, Louisville relied heavily on the expertise of convening keynote Michael McAfee. McAfee, President of PolicyLink and a main driver behind making the Promise Neighborhoods Initiative a reality, delivered a talk about bringing an equity lens to the work, sparking a powerful response from the Louisville team. At their request, McAfee joined the team for a discussion over lunch on their need to confront the historical and ongoing reality of racism in their community.

Other Supports

In the fall of 2016, Mayor Fischer’s office reached out to Paul Reville regarding Louisville’s third Cradle to Career Summit. The summit, organized by the mayor’s office, is an annual opportunity for Louisville to engage community stakeholders on both the challenges and opportunities faced in strengthening and aligning education, workforce, health, and social service systems in their community. Fischer hoped that Reville could speak at the summit about Louisville and BAM’s shared children’s opportunity agenda. In addition, having been impressed by Harvard Professor Ron Heifetz at the May 2016 convening, Fischer hoped to connect with Heifetz as well. Ultimately, both Reville and Heifetz spoke at the November 2016 summit, and Louisville was able to spend one-on-one time with Heifetz during the November 2016 BAM convening.

The May 2016 convening also inspired a city team member—Metro United Way’s Vice President for Early Care and Education—to invite Reville to give remarks at a meeting of the Ready for K Alliance, the “cradle” portion of Louisville’s Cradle to Career continuum. Reville agreed to do so and called into their meeting on July 2016. Additionally, Reville periodically schedules calls with the mayors to serve as thought partner on their education strategy.

External Factors: A New Charter School Bill

Kentucky's first successful charter school bill was signed into law by Governor Matt Bevin in March 2017, making it the 44th state in the country to allow charter schools. Under the new law, local school districts and the mayors of Lexington and Louisville are granted the power to approve charter applications. JCPS opposed the legislation and was taken by surprise at the granting of charter approval authority to the mayor’s office. While the upcoming effort to create a specific plan for the rollout of charters may create additional challenges, both sides are committed to continuing to work productively together.


As in all other BAM cities, data has played an important role in the early work of the cabinet. Louisville had a head start on this: both the city and school district follow a philosophy of data-driven decision-making. In starting the work with a shared understanding of data's importance and some capacity to analyze with an eye toward the cabinet's work, Louisville enjoys an advantage of a head start, data-wise.

Despite Louisville’s established practice of data-driven decision-making, the cabinet recognized it was still not fully realizing the potential of the city’s raw data. At their April 2017 cabinet meeting, the team agreed in principle to creating data sharing agreements—to be signed by several of the cabinet’s stakeholders, including JCPS and Louisville Metro Government—as such data sharing could be used to inform asset mapping, individual student growth plans, and a number of other analytics. In prioritizing and completing these agreements, the cabinet could position Louisville to take full advantage of the data experts coming into the community through the anticipated partnership with the Weiss Institute.


Louisville has an engaged philanthropic community that has been strongly supportive of the work of the Cradle to Career Cabinet. Several local charities have been active members of the cabinet from the outset and have attended the By All Means convenings at Harvard. As a result of this partnership and engagement in the work, at least one foundation has contributed financially to the cabinet’s shared work. This philanthropic engagement and commitment to this work has been named by a number of cabinet members as a key factor in Louisville’s progress.


Louisville has made impressive progress toward creating a collaborative, sustainable metro-wide initiative to support its children, despite encountering several obstacles. Their accomplishments to date demonstrate how to align multiple public entities and external partners in a way that is effective and adaptive. Louisville has successfully navigated the significant challenges of new charter school legislation, a superintendent transition, and the shift in Say Yes’s involvement thanks in large part to a strong, shared commitment to their goals for Louisville’s youth, established through the committed support of the mayor and superintendent and deep engagement with a broad group of stakeholders.

Louisville’s team members found substantial benefits just from the regular interaction with their counterparts and colleagues in other sectors through the cabinet and convenings. These new relationships, for example, enabled them to see how data from one sector might help another sector perform more efficiently and effectively (e.g., how school discipline data can help a former police chief target and reduce juvenile infractions). Relationships with local foundations proved beneficial as well, as they yielded important support at several stages of the work. Leadership from 55,000 Degrees played an important role in facilitating this cross-sector work and relationship-building: they stepped in to “project manage” the city’s efforts, drawing from their prior experience of acting as a backbone organization.

Where Are They Now?

In the time since our research concluded in May 2017, Louisville’s work has evolved in the following ways:

  • The cabinet began to focus on messaging and community engagement, describing and framing their efforts as the Louisville Promise. Louisville held a Community Conversation in September 2017 to introduce the Louisville Promise and initiated a digital presence through the creation of a website,, and a Twitter page. As of February 2018, the cabinet is undertaking additional research to determine if the name Louisville Promise is the best option.
  • A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining a shared commitment to Louisville children was created and signed by numerous stakeholders on the cabinet in August 2017.3 The signatories, otherwise referred to as the Louisville Promise Partners, included JCPS, Louisville Metro Government, the Jefferson County Teachers Association, the 15th District Parent Teacher Association, Metro United Way, 55,000 Degrees, Centerstone, KentuckianaWorks, three foundations, four institutions of higher education, and several others.
  • Data-sharing agreements covering student-level data and fiscal allocations have been prepared in partnership with the Weiss Institute. These agreements are to be signed by JCPS and the Louisville Metro Government with the purpose of identifying “pinch points” in the areas of student need and spending. The city and school district are hoping to identify spending gaps and areas of overlap so that the two entities, in partnership, can allocate funds effectively on behalf of children.
  • Marty Pollio officially became Louisville’s new Superintendent in February 2018 after serving as Interim Superintendent for nearly eight months.

City Takeaways

  • A strong cabinet, with formal operating structures, processes, and regular meetings, ensures the collective buy-in to sustain the work through challenges and leadership transitions.

  • Cabinet membership will evolve to reflect shifting priorities and community representation.

  • Cities can engage effectively with multiple external partners when done with purpose and intention.