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College and Career Pathways, K-12 Education

Our New Strategic Approaches

Change is happening in Detroit, and it’s happening because of the people and organizations, homegrown and newcomer alike, who believe in the possibilities of the city. But in order for change to be meaningful and lasting, it must also be rooted in the possibility of the people. That’s the moment we find ourselves in now. In a surge of investment and development that must be inclusive of the city’s residents, youth in particular, if we are to experience a true resurgence in Detroit.

The urgency and opportunity of this moment in Detroit fueled our thinking about the Foundation’s work ahead. In August, we shared a blog that provided an overview of our new strategy under three Impact Areas: Education, Equity and Economy. The strategy seeks to ensure that Detroit children have access to opportunity — from exceptional schools, to rewarding careers, to empowered civic life – allowing them to prosper from and contribute to the city’s rebirth. Our efforts will be citywide in scope, seeking to influence change on a systems level, and aligned with other organizations working to expand educational and economic opportunity for Detroit youth.

Since our last update, we’ve worked to further refine how we will approach community change in these three Impact Areas, taking into the account the strengths developed during the Foundation’s last decade of work through our Good Neighborhoods Initiativeas well as the needs and opportunities that currently present themselves in Detroit. Our contributions will extend beyond grantmaking, including convening other partners and funders and leveraging the Foundation’s standing to amplify the voices of Detroit youth and those who champion them.

Below, we’ve outlines our Strategic Approaches for driving change in Education, Equity and Economy in Detroit to benefit the city’s children.


Our vision: Detroit children will have the opportunity to receive a quality education and build life-long success skills.

What we believe: Meaningful learning happens both inside and outside of the classroom, involving academic proficiency as well as the crucial skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, and ability to collaborate and communicate well with others.

Our Strategic Approaches in Education

Literacy & Numeracy

Target areas of investment: Third-grade reading; Educator pipeline – teacher recruitment

Despite great improvement in graduation rates during the Good Neighborhoods Initiative, academic proficiency remained low. While test scores alone are insufficient measures of student ability, aptitude in English and math are nevertheless essential for success in school, work, and life. Third-grade reading, in particular, is a critical milestone in which children shift from learning to read, to reading to learn. Improving third-grade reading proficiency requires: stronger in-class supports; afterschool and summer learning opportunities; and, most critically, a capable teacher at the head of every classroom.

Education Ecosystem Reset

Target areas of investment: Actionable data; Educator pipeline – development & retention; Family & community engagement 

The conditions for making real and lasting system-level change across Detroit’s system of schools are ripe. The Detroit Public Schools Community District is poised for a successful rebuild under the leadership of an empowered school board, a proven superintendent, and a strong central office staff. Likewise, promising charter networks are investing in their talent and working to rapidly improve academic results. What’s more, there’s an enthusiastic energy growing in Detroit for making great schools the norm for the city’s children. In order to do so, Detroit must build a robust talent pipeline of teachers and school leaders, share data for collective learning and decision making, and engage families and community members to support students and schools.

present & ready to learn

Target areas of investment: School supports to increase attendance; Community awareness & engagement 

Efforts to improve school quality won’t matter if young people aren’t present in class. Absenteeism erodes students’ ability to perform at grade level and graduate on time, or at all. Chronic absenteeism, which affects more than half of Detroit students, is about more than skipping school. Health problems, lack of transportation, bullying, and unnecessary suspensions keep too many students from being present and ready to learn.


Our vision: Detroit youth will have access and agency, allowing them to benefit from and contribute to Detroit’s recovery.

What we believe: Detroit’s recovery will only be made sustainable and complete by nurturing the talents and intellect of our children. Inequity in the programs, policies, and practices that impact our city’s youth must be eliminated.

Our Strategic Approaches in Equity


Target areas of investment: Youth violence interventions; Juvenile diversion; Restorative practices

In 2013 we began working to connect a comprehensive network of partners together to improve safety across the city. But despite advances made, Detroit youth still face disproportionate arrests and prosecutions. As such, we are focusing our influence on system-level change to redirect children from punitive disciplinary actions in school and through the justice system to other supports and programs that widen, rather than limit, their future prospects.

youth development

Target areas of investment: Dedicated public funding; Program quality improvement; Promising youth programs that can serve as proof points for scalable investments

High-quality out-of-school programs provide children with safe spaces, connection to caring adults, and educational and developmental growth opportunities that complement the school day. In most major cities in America, youth development activities are seen as fundamental to the public and community offerings available to children and youth. This is not the case in Detroit – yet. The Skillman Foundation is committed to ensuring quality and coordination across a youth development system that is properly scaled and supported to provide programming for youth citywide.

community leadership

Target areas of investment: Pipelines for new leaders; Platforms for existing leaders; Sharing of data and information to inform civic action and decision making

Residents have the right – and the right ideas — to actively shape their communities. By helping them grow as civic leaders and providing opportunities for their voices to be heard, families and communities will be better able to flourish. This includes creating opportunities for youth to explore and develop their own leadership capacities.


Our vision: Detroit youth will be prepared for and connected to an ever-evolving economy.

What we believe: Good schools, exposure to college and career options, and the knowledge and skills to make informed financial decisions are necessary for youth to envision and achieve their ideal future.

Our Strategic Approaches in Economy 

college & career pathways

Target areas of investment: College & career models; Post-secondary access & support; Youth development programs that expose and connect youth to college & career

Detroit youth struggle to navigate college and career opportunities. More structure and coordination is needed to ensure young people are exposed to relevant learning opportunities and clear pathways that enable them to grow their knowledge and skillset outside of high school.

youth employment 

Target areas of investment: Employer capacity to develop young workers; Career readiness & exposure; Building a comprehensive & coordinated system for youth employment

Summer jobs and internships serve as a rite of passage for many young people, exposing them to the expectations and offerings of the workplace. These early job experiences help youth develop critical skills, build their professional network, and experience the prideful accomplishment of earning an income. However, youth growing up in areas of high poverty and unemployment such as Detroit often miss these crucial growth opportunities. We will work to ensure that Detroit youth have access to meaningful work by growing a high-quality youth employment system. 

financial empowerment

Target areas of investment: Youth entrepreneurship; Financial literacy for youth & families

Knowing how to manage personal finances is critical to building a secure future for oneself and one’s family. In order for Detroit youth to have true economic opportunity, they must be equipped with the financial knowledge and confidence needed to be responsible and self-sufficient adults.

our shared work

We are not alone in moving an agenda for Detroit children. We rely on deep partnerships with public, private and community allies. Working in alignment with others will drive the best results for children, and we are committed to doing so.

On behalf of the Foundation’s program team, we thank all those who are working to expand outcomes and opportunities for Detroit youth. We look forward to partnering with you to ensure that Detroit children are prepared for and connected to opportunities in an ever-evolving economy and are making significant contributions to our city’s recovery.

Interested in more information and conversation about the Skillman Foundation’s new framework?

  • Comment: Leave us your questions or thoughts in the comments section below
  • More about our Community Initiatives: The Foundation continues its work in four Community Initiatives: Detroit Children’s FundCody Rouge ProjectCoalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren and My Brother’s Keeper. A blog about these initiatives will be posted in late October 2017.
  • Webinars: We will host a series of webinars in November that will delve into detail about our grantmaking for each Impact Area. A Q&A session will take place at the end of each webinar. Webinars and their resulting Q&A will be posted the following week. Webinar dates are as follows. Please stay tuned for registration information.
    November 14 – Education
    November 16 – Equity, Economy
  • Grant inquiries and proposals under our new strategy will be accepted beginning in January 2018. More information will be shared about this process at that time.
The Skillman Foundation

A voice for children since 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy that serves as a fierce champion of Detroit children. The Foundation works to ensure Detroit youth achieve their highest aspirations by strengthening K-12 public education, afterschool learning opportunities, and college and career pathways.

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