Our future quality of life here in Southern Arizona depends on the successful transitions our children make throughout their education and into adulthood. Ensuring that every child is supported with the right resources both in and out of school, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or ZIP code, must be the top priority if our community is ever going to become the thriving economic region we all desire.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to make this happen. Among the many needs of the system are quality early education, quality K-12 teachers, engaged parents and affordable postsecondary education, to name a few. There is not a program or curriculum that is going to “fix” the broken system we have inherited. The only way to reach the goal of success for every student is to approach education with a cradle-to-career mindset, while also making intentional efforts to eliminate disparities that might inhibit students from achieving.

Solving the education crisis is complex and requires that we eliminate barriers between schools, organizations, higher education institutions and the business community. Leaders must have the opportunity to co-develop local strategies with student outcomes at the center. It must start with laser-focused attention on the data to identify the problems and continue to use data-driven actions to address, monitor and improve them.

Launched last spring, the Cradle to Career Partnership (C2C) is the vehicle to make these huge shifts across systems and organizations. Comprising 35 C-level executives from across sectors, the C2C Leadership Council provides the governance for this work. These leaders have selected seven key outcomes along the birth-to-career continuum to focus on: Kindergarten readiness; early grade literacy; middle school math; high school graduation; re-engagement of opportunity, postsecondary education success; and career attainment. Building a strong foundation for the partnership has been the focus of the first year of this work, collecting and analyzing data to obtain a baseline for each of these areas.

The C2C baseline data report, “Charting our Course,” will be released to the community on Friday, Jan. 29. More than 100 educators, students, and business and community leaders are expected to attend a release event not only to review the data but to explore the next steps to making the data actionable. Attendees will hear from leadership council members on what has transpired over the last year, where the data indicate we are now and what is planned for this year to ensure the initiative continues to move forward.

To be honest with you, the overall data are alarming. Many children in our region are far from where they need to be to achieve success in this competitive global economy. The data show large disparities between children who live in impoverished areas and those with financially stable families.

We can do something about it. This baseline data report will not just sit on a shelf as an end unto itself, because there is a collaborative engine behind it, with action already being taken to solve these challenges. This is a long journey but the C2C partnership and United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona are committed to turning the numbers around.

Penn is president and CEO of United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona.