Norwalk, CT

Norwalk Nonprofit Brings Data Within Reach, Aims for Better Public Policy Making

Connecticut by the Numbers

Seeking to better inform local policymakers, nonprofit Norwalk Acts has unveiled two new “data dashboards,” one containing information about the readiness of Norwalk’s children to enter kindergarten, and the other offering important facts gathered from the City’s 2010 Census.

The organization’s data experts explain that the data, now on the organization’s website, will allow users to describe and diagnose the dimensions of a problem; predict future trendlines; and target inequities that need to be addressed in order to attain a community’s goals.

Norwalk ACTS’ data dashboards not only frame the problems faced by the City, according to the organization, but are also intended to help policymakers and community leaders create a scaffold of effective solutions in order to improve the lives of its residents, particularly low-income families.

"Data is everywhere. What we measure matters. How we measure matters,” says Paula Palermo, Data Director of Norwalk ACTS, a nonprofit that leverages its collaborations with government agencies as well as over 150 community and civic leaders, educators, organizations, and individuals to create equitable pathways of success for Norwalk Public School students, according to officials.

“We owe it to our children and our community to use data wisely to convert it to information, insight, and action—and the impact of that action should look and feel like arms around our children, supporting them from cradle to career."

The Kindergarten Readiness Dashboard offers a wealth of statistics about the approximately 2,300 children enrolled in Norwalk’s pre-K programs. It shows, for example, that almost 90% of Norwalk’s 3- and 4-year-olds attended a pre-school in each of the past three years and charts the significant progress made in the number of children who were developmentally ready for the transition to kindergarten. That percentage climbed from 67% in 2018 to 74% this school year based on data gleaned from a well-regarded questionnaire filled out by parents and caregivers, one that asks about children’s communications, fine and gross motor, socialization, and problem-solving skills. The percentages of those who possessed the literacy skills required for kindergarten increased by six percent over the past three years, the data shows.

“Data can also be a tremendous resource not only for parents but also for preschool teachers and care providers” Palermo said. “They will understand how the assessment tools highlighted in the Dashboard, along with a host of strategies, are assuring the very youngest children enjoy enriched learning and developmental experiences before they begin kindergarten.”

Mary Kate Locke, the Director of Child and Family Development at the Family and Children’s Agency in Norwalk, and one of three chairs leading Norwalk ACTS’ Prenatal to 3rd Grade Initiative, adds, “When we have the ability to disaggregate this data, we can begin to tell an important story about where we need to come together to target more resources to children from birth to age five, and their families.”

The organization’s Census Dashboard has quickly demonstrated its usefulness as a powerful driver of community decision-making. During the pandemic, it has been used by the Norwalk Public Schools and the City of Norwalk to review mapping data on food distribution sites, enabling officials to set accessibility as the primary criterion to reach the highest number of those in need.

By providing granular information about Norwalk’s 22 neighborhoods, rather than zip codes, the Dashboard will help those who use it to go beyond traditional geographic analysis, officials pointed out. Attaching census data to a physical map, they explained, will empower community members to assess need in a more thorough and evidence-based manner.

“Data gives us a civic roadmap, enabling communities to change, make course corrections, and influence policy,” says Jennifer Barahona, CEO of Norwalk ACTS. “The two new dashboards, which are now on our website, are essential because while they provide ample evidence of the economic and educational disparities that challenge the City, they also shine a light on effective practices that can bring about sustained and equitable outcomes for Norwalk’s families.”

Beyond having the data used by policymakers, Barahona noted, “Our hope is to get these tools into the hands of community members in order to bring about a power shift from those vested with institutional authority to citizens who want to overcome the systemic barriers to equity, opportunity, and excellence.”

The Dashboards can be viewed on Norwalk ACTS website.

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