This week, we interview Fulcrum Fellow Chris Story. Chris has only just begun his role as Spartanburg’s City Manager but is carrying tools and insights he’s picked up as a dedicated member of the community and through the Fulcrum Fellowship. In this interview, Chis addresses the challenges the City of Spartanburg is facing. He focuses on the significant life expectancy gaps between neighborhoods, and what services and processes he aims to adjust, allowing better long term health outcomes for all, starting from birth.
Tell us a little bit about your background, and how you ended up in your role at City of Spartanburg?
I’ve been working in local government in Spartanburg for more than 20 years now, which is amazing to think about. I started out searching for a career that aligned with my strengths and got me excited each morning. I’ve had a range of different roles in the management of the city’s local government over the years, and I’m excited to now be stepping into a role I’ve been working towards. As City Manager, I’ll now report to a body of elected officials, and trying to discern the will of the council is as much art as it is science. That will be something for me to be aware of and work on. I’ll also be leading city staff and influencing the strategic direction of the city to make sure we are more equitable and just community. The fellowship has helped me become much more attuned to the meaningful systemic issues affecting our community now, and I look forward to bringing that to bear to this new role. It’s an exciting time.
What challenge have you chosen to focus on in your Fulcrum Fellowship?
I am working to implement a comprehensive suite of supports for all of the babies born in the city and their parents, tentatively named Hello Family. The program is financed by pay-for-success and covers four different interventions that will dramatically improve outcomes for our youngest residents:
- 1. Doula-based birthing and first-year support to vulnerable mothers and their families called Birth Matters.
- 2. Introduction of universal nurse home visiting program developed by Duke called Family Connects.
- 3. Scaling our Positive Parenting Program, “Triple P”, to make it available citywide and to all parents.
- 4. Work with local Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI) group for early learning facilities to fully scale Quality Counts.
- The aim of my challenge is to implement evidence-based programs so children are arriving at the schoolhouse door at age 5 healthy, thriving, and ready to embrace education. This is the sound good start that anyone would want for their own children. Hello Family will also allow us to track data and see how we are meeting the needs of kids under the age of 5 in this city in a way we haven’t been able to before.
- What are you learning about what it’s going to take to move your challenge?
- The Fulcrum Fellowship has helped me understand and dissect what is going on when trying to implement a major new endeavor. Often, there is a lack of ownership because it’s not anyone’s core or formal responsibility. I’ve learned that trying to change how various partners define their roles creates a cascade of other activities. Because of our Fulcrum Fellows training, I can see that happening in advance and try to design a larger process that takes those impacts into account. There’s a lot more to implementing a new effort than simply making a case to the right audience. It’s a process to achieve that kind of change, and I now understand and respect it more because of my time in the Fellowship.
- What have been the most valuable aspects of the Fulcrum Fellowship to you so far?
- It’s proven to me the value of talking openly about your own challenges within a smart group of peers. I get a lot out of interaction with other members of the cohort and the coaching time with them and with Marian. Smart folks who are earnestly engaged and wanting to help you solve problems is a blessing. Going forward, I need to find a way to create that support locally.
- What most excites you looking toward the end of the Fellowship?
- The end of the Fulcrum Fellowship is coinciding with my new role and it does have my head spinning a bit. I’m looking forward to the last of our gatherings in a few weeks. I know I will come back from our last meeting feeling capable of getting Hello Family to the finish line and stepping into the City Manager role. I have a lot of reasons to be excited about the coming months, but I am not looking forward to the end of the Fellowship and losing time together with the other Fellows. Additionally, I have a meeting with one of our main partners that will help clarify potential timetables on pieces of Hello Family. While we are fortunate to have strong interest from a number of potential funding partners, but have lacked a clear pathway to a final decision. The fellowship has helped me clarify the community decision-making process and I hope we will soon have the impetus to act. During the next few months I will be transitioning from being a staff member advocating for Hello Family to being City Manager, which will change my role in implementing this program.
- What is your media diet?
- I really enjoy listening to the Slow Burn podcast, especially the first season and the Watergate story. When I nerd out for fun, I listen to Star Talk, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s podcast. When you think about the scale and mysteries of the universe, it helps me put my local issues into some much-needed perspective. Musically, I’m a huge fan of Jason Isbell.