Investing in Innovation (i3) Grant Winner

September 2016

Welcome Back to School!
Diplomas Now teams around the country are back in school, ready for another great year of making a difference in the lives of students during the 2016-2017 school year. We hope that you have had an incredible summer-you deserve it! The back-to-school season is a great time to celebrate the amazing work of our school partners who keep thousands of students on track to graduate each year.

This month, we also launched the Diplomas Now Implementation Innovation Challenge to encourage cutting-edge thinking and practices! Each month, an award of $1,000 will be given to the school team the Challenge Committee deems most successful in implementing a particular approach. The September challenge is No EWIs! Teams: don't forget to submit an application by Oct. 15! Future challenges will include areas such as attendance, engaging school staff, creative data review meetings, and more.

We have a lot to be excited about and hope that you are ready for an incredible school year!

Kellie Hinkle
Interim Director, Diplomas Now

Bob Balfanz
Co-founder, Diplomas Now

Charles Hiteshew 
CEO, Talent Development Secondary

Steven McCullough
Co-president, Communities In Schools
Debra Montanino
Co-president, Communities In Schools
Jim Balfanz
President, City Year
New Analysis of Federal Data Reveals Troubling Trends in Chronic Absenteeism
A new analysis of federal data found that 6.5 million, or 13 percent, of the nation's  students are chronically absent-and half of them are concentrated in just 4 percent of school districts. The new analysis was conducted by Bob Balfanz, a co-founder of  Diplomas Now, and Hedy Chang, the director of Attendance Works, a national initiative focused on boosting school  attendance. The findings are particularly troubling because poor attendance is one of the three early warning indicators that research shows leads to dropping out of school. The study was released in connection with Attendance Awareness Month in September and builds on the first-ever release of chronic absence data from the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. Other important takeaways from the analysis include:
  • 89 percent of U.S. school districts report some level of chronic absence.
  • Districts serving disadvantaged urban neighborhoods have both high rates and high numbers of chronically absent students.
  • Some of the places with the largest number of chronically absent students are affluent suburban districts.
  • Many small, rural districts have few students but extremely high rates of chronic absenteeism.
The study also highlights some key steps districts, schools and states can take to combat the issue. The study cites Diplomas Now - with its strong focus on attendance - as a key example of a promising solution. The report also cites the White House's and Education Department's My Brother's Keeper Student Success Initiative as a proven intervention program, and that effort uses Diplomas Now as one model for schools.

" What's clear is that chronic absenteeism follows poverty wherever it is found in significant concentrations," said Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who leads the Everyone Graduates Center.
Read the full report, and check out this interactive map, which visualizes the findings.
National Radio Report Spotlights Booker T. Washington High School in Miami
Booker T. Washington High School's partnership with Diplomas Now is a major focus of American Public Media's recent radio documentary and report, "What it Takes: Two high-poverty schools chase better graduation rates." The 52-minute documentary and written story dissect some key facets of the Diplomas Now model, including the ABCs - the focus areas of our partner organizations - and the the i3 study findings. "Schools like Booker T. need to come up with programs that help students overcome the effects of poverty. That's what Diplomas Now was designed to do," writes reporter Emily Hanford.

Diplomas Now School Teams Gather in Orlando and Find the "Magic Within Us"
The Sunshine State hosted the eighth annual Summer Institute, where Diplomas Now school teams and other stakeholders convened to celebrate successes and explore ways to maximize impact on lives of students. DNSI 2016 had a Harry Potter theme with a tagline of "There is magic within us all," and sessions focused on connecting participants in authentic ways through discussion of practical knowledge, problem-solving and much more.

Kellie Hinkle, interim director of Diplomas Now, opened the conference by sharing some data highlights and prai sing some outstanding achievements at Diplomas Now partner schools:
  • Across the network, 66 percent of students ended the year with no early warning signs (EWIs).
  • The English High School in Boston saw the percentage of students with math proficiency jump 21 points and English proficiency jump 39 points between 2010-2011 and 2014-2015.
  • Chicago's Gage Park High School and John Hope Preparatory High School have seen rates of freshmen on track to graduate increase by 7 percentage points and 4.4 points, respectively, since 2011.
  • Compass Academy, a new charter school in Denver founded on the Diplomas Now model, ended its inaugural year with 93 percent average daily attendance.
  • The number of 9th and 10th graders earning enough credits to be on track for graduation at Newton High School in New York increased from 70 percent and 62 percent, respectively, in 2010-2011 to 84 and 71 percent in 2014-2015.
  • Cardozo Education Campus increased its high school graduation rate by 11 percentage points from 2014 to 2015.
"We've taken kids that a lot of people have given up on, kids who didn't have a chance and given them a chance," said Bob Balfanz, who delivered the keynote address. He asked everyone to "think about the students you helped this year, think of them by name."

He talked about the impact Diplomas Now teams have had providing support for both students, teachers and administrators. "What we do: change lives and help kids."

Balfanz then discussed the most exciting news shared at the conference: the recently published results of research organization MDRC's Investing in Innovation (i3) evaluation, funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the PepsiCo Foundation. Diplomas Now did what it was designed to do: reduce the number of student with early-warning indicators. "And it's a big deal," Balfanz said. The study results will be used to bolster efforts to expand Diplomas Now to more sites and secure additional grants. 

Topics of discussion at the many DNSI 2016 sessions ranged from the impact of poverty on students' lives to technology in classrooms to holding successful meetings with school partners. New partnerships-and friendships-were forged along the way.

The Summer Institute took place just a short drive from Orlando's Pulse Nightclub, where the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history had occurred just weeks before the conference. To pay respect, attendees shared compassionate messages of support, and were invited to visit the site.

At the final session of the two-day conference, outstanding schools and leaders won Diplomas Now's annual awards:

Communities in Schools Site Coordinator of the Year: 
Carla Fleming of Clinton Middle School in Tulsa.
Carla has played a key role in boosting the attendance of her students by working closely with students and their parents, and taking their feedback seriously. From planning activities and celebrations for students to partnering with local organizations to get students involved in the community, she is a true leader in her school and community. She is known for always going above and beyond.

City Year Impact Manager of the Year: 
Trista Ristau of Webster High School in Tulsa. 
Trista is often described as an "example of service," a "true collaborator," and an "effective communicator." She is open to thinking outside the box, and her leadership and willingness to push boundaries has helped students not just in math and English-but also even in biology.

School Transformation Facilitator of the Year: Genevieve Amaris of Miami. Having been in Miami since the launch of Diplomas Now there five years ago, Genevieve has built strong relationships at three schools and has become a valued and trusted member of the team. She has played a major role in helping her schools hit performance targets and raise scores. 

Site Team of the Year: Mifflin High School in Columbus, Ohio. Hearcel Craig (School Transformation Facilitator), Darren Carrington (CIS Site Coordinator), Alicia Jefferson (Impact Manager), and Kimberly Normand (Principal) have worked closely together to determine what is best for their school. Despite some unexpected staff shakeups, the team brought the percentage of students ending the year without early warning indicators up by 16 percentage points.

Middle School Principal of the Year: Jovan Moore of Grover Washington Middle School in Philadelphia. Ms. Moore recognized the importance of Diplomas Now from day one, and is often described as witty, funny-and cool. She has been a key figure in the successful implementation of Diplomas Now, and continues to be an advocate for the team. To support the planning, designing, and delivery of ongoing professional development, she has worked with and heeded the recommendations of Johns Hopkins University facilitators.

High School Principal of the Year: Dr. Ligia Noriega-Murphy of The English High School in Boston. Dr. Noriega-Murphy is known by many for her can-do attitude and nonstop smile. People in the community describe her work as driving positive change. The 2014-2015 standardized test scores improved so much under her leadership that they were investigated by the school district (and were valid, of course!). 

Middle School of the Year: Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle. Aki Kurose was recently identified as one of the state's most successful schools in closing opportunity gaps. The diverse and collaborative community has a school culture of "high expectations, inclusiveness, equity and mutual respect. Principal Mia Parker Williams was among many school principals invited to The White House to participate in a panel about supporting student success using early warning systems, student success mentors, and reducing chronic absenteeism. The other leaders include CIS Site Coordinator Natalie Mace (who is soon to be the School Transformation Facilitator), former School Transformation Facilitator Katrina Hunt, and City Year Impact Manager Emily Lewis Olafsen.

High School of the Year:  The English High School in Boston.  This school has fought through challenges, unprecedented tragedies, and local pressure to continue to serve student and teacher needs. As a hub for innovation for Diplomas Now and a demonstration site for The White House's My Brother's Keeper initiative, the school has hosted multiple visits from funders and central office staff seeking to replicate the Diplomas Now model. The leadership team includes Principal Ligia Noriega-Murphy, School Transformation Facilitator Rene Patton, and City Year Impact Manager Samantha Hawke.