Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this


Hear a podcast of our radio interview on KNSJ with Tad Parzen, City Heights Partnership:

By Janis Russell

May 22, 2014 (City Heights)- The mission of the City Heights Partnership for Children, which has been in existence since 2011, is for young people to emerge as adults with the skills to succeed in college or a career and enter adulthood as productive members of the community. From preparing children to kindergarten to saving youngster's vision and even lives, the Partnership is attracting national attention for its successes.

This partnership first came out of an idea with Price Family Charities. ECM recently interviewed Tad Parzen, the executive director of this partnership.

This program has been able to achieve its goal through a process called collective impact. Parzen explained, “This works through a collaboration all based on data and best practices. We measure what matters, things that we know through research, are the most important trajectory points in young people’s lives.”

Examples are readiness for kindergarten and eighth grade math and language proficiency. The partnership has worked with many other organizations and people.

“The partners around the table are pretty much everyone who has a stake in youth outcomes, starting with parents, youth themselves, school districts, county, philanthropy, nonprofit service providers,” Parzen said. “We basically project manage [the data] to outcome, so there’s a community wide strategy…We measure what  matters, we organize the community around those things that matter, we develop strategies across sectors and we implement them, measure what matters again, and do it better the next time.”

This has been very successful, he said. “Getting everyone aligned around a common community vision that children should be ready for kindergarten--we consider that a major, major step in the right direction. On the ground, we’ve been able to do things like make sure kids are more ready for kindergarten than they would’ve been otherwise.”

From talking to principals, they have found out that “one of the major impediments is that kids can’t see well.” Sometimes, they’re not able to see an eye doctor. So their stakeholders give them vision care.

The website mentions that the partnership is first focused on reaching Hoover high school cluster, which consists of one high school, two middle schools, and ten elementary schools. Asked about the needs, Parzen told ECM, “City Heights is really the vulnerable youth epicenter of San Diego County, so that’s part of why to start here.” In addition, he stated, “There’s a very high density of resources but not necessarily aligned resources… The needs are various around the community… You’ve also got classic generational urban poverty. There are so many young people here in City Heights with such a variety of needs including some language support. There are dozens of different languages spoken here, so it’s a complex set of both classic American urban poverty, immigrant poverty, newcomer kind of issues, cultural issues.”

The partnership found out what the needs were just by “being in the community and listening. We spent a lot of time listening to the community (including parents, teachers, principals, healthcare providers) about really ‘what is the landscape here and what might work here in addition to the technical expertise that organizations could bring?’”

The partnership has also been “elevating the level of community knowledge to the same level of expertise, and respecting it in a way that it permeates every piece of the work. So it was very much a listening campaign first and foremost, and keeping very steadfast to this idea that the community has to be at the center of all the work. Otherwise, it won’t work and it won’t be sustainable.”

The partnership will  be helping out next in Vista. “Vista Unified and the city of Vista have approached us both formally and informally to build a collaboration,” Parzen said. “We’ve very excited to be supporting the community of Vista. We see tremendous readiness there. “

Asked whether the model might work in El Cajon, which has high poverty rates, Parzen said it could but added, “We’re very clear that we don’t want to go anywhere where we’re not wanted, where the community’s not ready for this level of collaboration… It’s more rigorous, it’s deeper and there has to be a long term sustained commitment by all partners.”

The website also noted that City Heights residents, many of whom are immigrants or refugees, have been stepping up to serve as catalysts for positive changes in the community, and they have been working closely with a group of community-based organizations.

 Parzen said, “There are community members at every level of leadership in our organization, including our ‘leadership table.’ There are two community residents that sit right there with me and the superintendent of schools, and the regional head of Health and Human Services etc. So that level of leadership is critical both in terms of making sure the community voice is heard, but as a demonstration of commitment on our part and on their part that we’re in this together.”

He also went into detail of a model they’ve been using called the community broker model. “Parents really own the issue as much as any of the institutions, and receive training  and education in how to support children, particularly readiness for kindergarten, and making sure they know their ABCs, their numbers, can write their name, have more familiarity with print and what to do with a book.” Parents receive training from training professionals, and nonprofit, like Words of Life.

“Then, they develop a toolkit, and then 20 parents went out and trained 200 other parents, who trained other parents,” Parzen explained. “You had this wonderful ‘pebble in the pond’ ripple effect to start generating a community movement around readiness for kindergarten.” He concluded, “So we’re very excited to see that happening in a heartfelt way and in an empowered way, with capacity to deliver for young people, readiness for kindergarten in a way this community has not seen before.”

Asked about students’ reactions, Parzen explained, “The reports we get from teachers and principals has been very, very exciting because we keep hearing that books are flying off the shelf, and both students and parents are coming to school in kindergarten much more enthusiastically, really ready to learn. There’s a new light in kids’ eyes. The reports that we’re getting from teachers and principals is that there’s a palpable difference in the way kids are engaging and..the pace of engagement in their early school moments.”

He shared a few specific success stories. “There was one instance where, because of the vision care we arranged within our deep partnership with Shiley Eye Center [at UCSD], where previously undetected conditions that were life threatening were identified, and children who probably would’ve lost one or both eyes and/or would have died, were diagnosed early enough. And then, through additional partnership with children’s hospital, there was a whole sequence of events where there’s an early detection, there’s then a referral to children’s hospital, then the appropriate treatment, and the child is back in the classroom within a matter of weeks perfectly healthy and learning and just like everybody else. And there have been countless other stories of children missing multiple days of school, but because of the health weren’t missing school when they otherwise would… So we’re seeing things like that every day. It’s really very very exciting.”

Asked about volunteer opportunities, Parzen answered, “Volunteerism is much more effective when it’s targeted on academics, or we’re creating something like a walking school bus.” For example, an idea that has come up is safe passages and safe routes to school, where an adult is always there to make sure kids get where they need to go safely etc. “There are always volunteer opportunities to build that community movement, to understand what we do, and to really roll up your sleeves and get it done. And the community made this a safe and supportive place for children every day.”

Parzen concludes that the Partnership views itself as “a missing piece of civic infrastructure. San Diego is really now on the map,” he said adding that City Heights is one of six communities around the country designated by United Way to lead this work. “We’re changing the way we serve children in America, and we should be very proud in San Diego to be at the cutting edge of that effort.”

For more information about the City Heights partnership, visit:

To read more about how partnership and when it took existence, view the article:


Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.