Unleashing Potential: A New Approach To Grantee-Driven, Equity-Oriented Capacity Building

While 13 percent of the U.S. population is Black, only 7 percent of all public school teachers are, and their numbers are drastically decreasing every year. Despite efforts to diversity recruiting practices, Black teachers are also experiencing burnout, and the pandemic has only exacerbated its effects. There’s a critical need to identify and support these teachers, and Dr. Trinity Davis is a visionary that’s set out to do just that. 

Based in Kansas City, Mo., Dr. Davis’ organization, Teachers Like Me, has the vision to “increase the number of Black teachers by removing barriers to entry and providing the support needed to be effective and responsive to the academic and social needs of all students, specifically students of color.” While Dr. Davis’ ties in the Kansas City community were strong, she was having trouble accessing the support and funding she needed to build out the organization. 

This is where Catalyst:Ed came in. With funding from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Catalyst:Ed walked Dr. Davis through our project matching process, helped her identify her most significant need, and selected Square Button, a Black-owned and Black-run strategy consulting firm, to support her with this work.

Making a Way

“We didn’t know COVID was coming, but it was here, and I had also decided to launch Teachers Like Me, which is a nonprofit with the mission focused on recruiting, developing, and retaining quality Black teachers in Kansas City.” Retention is essential and is the organization’s main goal according to Dr. Davis. “We just don’t want people to come in and walk out, we want them to stay. I think that’s the work that we want to do—make them feel welcomed, special, and valued in every way that we can.” 

As a former professor, assistant superintendent, and teacher, Dr. Davis knew that the first thing she needed was a strategic plan. She was able to identify the priorities herself, but as she started developing the plan, realized she needed help. “Moving here to Kansas City, I really focused on working with the school district to help support teachers. But I realized that what we were trying to do was so big and the impacts were so small,” says Dr. Davis. 

That’s when Dr. Davis reached out to the Kauffman Foundation. With funding from the foundation, Dr. Davis was able to work with Catalyst:Ed to match with a provider Square Button Consulting, a Black-owned firm with project management expertise. She says, “I didn’t know anything about nonprofit work in this way. I did not know anything about raising money. All of that was new for me. I just knew how to be a good teacher and train teachers.”

Gaining Clarity & Building Capacity

Through the Catalyst:Ed project matching process, Dr. Davis was set up for success. She says, “[Catalyst:Ed] didn’t just give me what they wanted. They really looked at what I needed. I chose nine different groups and interviewed a lot of them. I love that process because I got to see and know [who the providers] are.” 

After selecting Square Button, the team was able to help Dr. Davis gain clarity and think through what she in fact needed and at times, what she could wait on. I appreciated their expertise and understanding of nonprofits and creating this kind of information. there were some things that I felt like, I don’t think we need that in year two, maybe your three, and it’s worked out just fine. But they listened, and that was good, says Dr. Davis. Another value-add was that the Square Button’s team involved stakeholders from the school community and pulled in perspectives from the superintendent, university partners, and Teachers Like Me’s advisory board. 

“Square Button did a really good job and they were able to deliver everything that I needed. We ended up doing our three-year strategic plan and they gave me a five year budget, which was awesome because all I have to do when I go apply for grants is go back to their document and cut and paste—all the information is there.” In the end, Dr. Davis walked away with a strong plan for Teachers Like Me, which is helping her and her team actualize their goals. 

“We’re up to 23 teachers and students right now. We’ve been able to get the funding we needed every year, and then some. So I just know f it wasn’t for that journey with Catalyst:Ed and Square Button, but we wouldn’t be at this point,” Dr. Davis says. 

Looking Ahead 

Things are moving forward for Teachers Like Me and Dr. Trinity is looking ahead to set new goals. “We met our goals. Now we have to make new ones,” she says. Next year the organization will be in its third year, still using the strategic plan Square Button developed, however, Dr. Trinity says she’ll be enlisting the team’s help once again to start planning out years four through six and help her be able to tell the story of Teachers Like Me. 

“I just want the Black teachers that come into this public school setting to feel valued, to have that efficacy that they know they can make a difference in each child that they work with, “ says Dr. Davis. “Teachers Like Me is focused on the whole teacher—everything that it takes for them to be the strongest teacher is what we want to provide them. And a lot of times that may not even be just about the classroom, it’s about life.”

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