29 May OnTrack Funder Update
When funder members of the Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy began joining the OnTrack
Greenville partnership in 2015, they had high expectations. This vast new collaboration to boost middle
grade success – catalyzed by a multimillion dollar grant from the Social Innovation Fund – was the first
time that middle schools and nonprofits in Greenville County joined forces supported by robust
evaluation and multiyear funding. All partners had high hopes that it would transform educational
outcomes for the adolescent students attending the four partner schools.
But no one involved in OnTrack Greenville was prepared for how the experience would profoundly
transform them as professionals and people.
“OnTrack Greenville has changed me as a person – it has changed the way I look at myself as a
principal,” said Latonia Copeland of Lakeview Middle School.
OnTrack Greenville partners – including school personnel, implementation partner staff and volunteers,
backbone staff from United Way, and evaluators from the Riley Institute – met with GPP members and
funders on May 29, 2018 to discuss progress at the initiative’s midpoint.
The numeric results related to implementation and impact were promising, but equally (if not more)
impressive were some of the process-oriented outcomes that are having ripple effects far beyond the
bounds of the SIF funded initiative.
History and Timeline
As OnTrack Greenville Director Tobi Kinsell has said, the collaboration partners began designing the
OnTrack Greenville aircraft while flying it.
Funding for OnTrack Greenville was announced by the Corporation for National and Community Service
in September 2014. From that time until the start of the 2015-16 school year, the United Way as the
fiscal agent continued to raise the requisite match funds, identify implementation partners, work with
Greenville County Schools and these partners to develop complex data-sharing agreements, and hire
staff to serve as the backbone of the collaboration. Greenville County Schools purchased and developed
its significant digital Early Warning and Response System – GC Source – to flag students when their
attendance, behavior, and core course performance moved off track. The Riley Institute developed
complex evaluation plans with the partners, and with evaluation subcontractors identified for their
specialties. Each of the five implementation partners hired new staff and began getting to know each
other. GPP raised over $1 million in a few months to support the project.
Baseline data for evaluation was collected in the 2015-16 school year – the first academic year of the
OnTrack Greenville partnership. During the 2016-17 school year, the first impact evaluations were
conducted to see the results of the interventions. During the 2017-18 school year, the Riley Institute
and its partners evaluated the data and prepared the first reports on results. The 2018-19 and 2019-20
school years – years four and five of the partnership – will be when data collection and implementation
is refined, partners and programs are added as appropriate, effective components are scaled up, and
sustainability is addressed.
Three levels of evaluation are underway in OnTrack Greenville, and findings related to each were
presented at the meeting.
Impact Evaluation measures whether the interventions individually and collectively made a difference
on attendance, behavior, and course performance – the three measures central to OnTrack Greenville.
The 2015-16 academic year created the baseline – this data showed a starting point for the students and
schools. In 2016-17, the Riley Institute gathered data to show how things changed for students
receiving interventions and how those students compare to comparison students in their schools who
didn’t receive interventions, to comparison students elsewhere in the district, and to comparison
students in other similar schools in South Carolina.The presentation included a snapshot of year one evaluation findings showing several promising results:
- BELL students were less likely to be chronically absent and had fewer referrals.
- Communities In Schools students were less likely to have had an Internal School Suspension (ISS)
and they had higher levels of school belonging and engagement
- Greenville County Schools students who took the Teen Leadership course were less likely to
have had an ISS and showed higher levels of school engagement and belonging and to value
- Greenville Health System’s School Based Health Center patients who received treatment were
less likely to seek primary medical care in the Emergency Department.
- 90% of teachers who received coaching from Public Education Partners instructional coaches
reported regularly incorporating literacy strategies in their classrooms.
Implementation Evaluation measures the fidelity of each of the intervention models. Implementation
evaluation began at launch and has been conducted by subcontracted evaluators with expertise in the
respective intervention models. Reports have been published quarterly and partners met annually in
2016 and 2017 to consider the findings and refine models based on those findings. Partners have
described Implementation Evaluation as the “secret sauce” of OnTrack Greenville, because it has
resulted in brave decision making, improved communication and processes, leveraging other needed
services, and refinement of models.
The Implementation Evaluation reported that the models implemented by BELL, Communities In
Schools, Greenville County Schools, and GHS have been implemented with fidelity. However, the
Disciplinary and Balanced Literacy Coaching model implemented by Public Education Partners was found
to not reach fidelity. Since the launch, PEP worked diligently with Greenville County Schools and
stakeholders to reach fidelity. Following much thought and consultation with Evaluators, PEP made the
brave decision to not re-apply for continued OnTrack Greenville funding.
A tremendous amount of learning and positive impact resulted from the work of PEP. Several positive
outcomes include: 1. Teachers who received coaching noted strong evidence of impact of the PEP
coaching on their instruction and outcomes for students; 2. The Balanced and Disciplinary Instructional
Coaching model influenced and enhanced Greenville County Schools’ model of instruction and the
policies and practices around instruction; and 3. The organizational capacity of PEP was enhanced and
accelerated through being an OnTrack Greenville partner.
While this was difficult and disappointing, it was affirming to hear that evaluation identified within two
years, what was at the level of fidelity, and leaders were brave to examine the results and make difficult
decisions that ultimately ensured the funds invested in OnTrack Greenville support models making the
greatest impact on students.
Process Evaluation supports the partnership as a whole and considers cohesion, trust, and other factors
related to how partners came together and stay together. OnTrack Greenville’s Process Evaluation
demonstrated a high level of value for the partners in collaborative. Since the beginning, there has been
a 130% increase in the degree to which partners believe OnTrack helps them achieve more together.
The evaluation illustrated widespread organizational and cultural shifts from looking at broad data to
using actionable data, from being siloed to acting collaboratively, from working and planning in a linear
fashion to being more cyclical, and from being self-centered to student centered.
Takeaways for Funders
OnTrack Greenville is undoubtedly significant for all partners, students, and families engaged in the
work. But for funders, it has presented special learning opportunities.
“Pooling” funds has impact on many fronts. When GPP was formed in the summer of 2014, several
members said they were in favor of collaboration, but they expressed hesitation about “pooling” their
funds – contributing them to a shared fund over which they would have no direct contract. But when
OnTrack Greenville received a SIF grant, they recognized the benefits of streamlining a funding process
so that each of the implementation partners would not apply to all of them for funds and so that they
could be part of a $3.2 million per year initiative with grants as small as $10,000. Not only did this make
things easier for the funders, it also allowed partners to focus on developing the initiative rather than
fundraising, which can be so time consuming for nonprofits.
Evaluation is a learning tool and not a report card. The rigorous evaluation requirements of OnTrack Greenville appealed to many funders. This would help us know what was working and what wasn’t, and consequently what was worth funding. Evaluation at this level of rigor and scope required vulnerability of the intervention partners to open their organization and models up to such review. However, they soon discovered that evaluation is an incredible tool for learning, growth, and adaptation.
Evaluation and more specifically, the focus on the ABC data has built the capacity of the schools to look
regularly at their data and use it to influence behavior and practice. For example, Dr. Edward Anderson,
Principal of Tanglewood Middle School, reported that they had a significant decrease in behavior referrals in 16-17. This was exciting! However, in this school year, 17-18, they noticed early on that they were tracking to end the year with an increase in behavior referrals. This fueled Tanglewood to create a Discipline Review Committee to reflect on how their entire schools implements disciplinary policies. As a result, they are implementing Compassionate Schools and a new discipline model in 18-19 that integrates empathy, reflection, restoration, and solutions in working with students on behavior. As Dr. Anderson said, “When you know better, you can do better, and this would have been impossible without using data and evaluation.
Multiyear funding allows for serious growth, change, and impact to occur. For some funders, OnTrack Greenville was the first time they had made a multiyear grant (at least to a non-capital project). But they were encouraged to think about the longer term effort needed to impact something as significant
as middle grade success in Title 1 schools.
Indeed, it’s now practically laughable to imagine something like OnTrack Greenville launching and
having an impact in just one, two or three years. Just the development of evaluations, establishment of
procedures, and the cultivation of trust and interdependence takes time. As Dr. Jason McCreary,
Director of Accountability and Quality Assurance with Greenville County Schools pointed out, joining
hands with other partners in OnTrack Greenville was like moving from courtship to marriage, a process
which necessarily should be slow and deliberate. New partners and concepts have been introduced to
the work, including Compassionate Schools and Adverse Childhood Experiences, which wasn’t even on
the radar in 2014 and is now fundamental to the day-to-day work.
Scale and sustainability comes in different forms. From day one, all OnTrack Greenville partners have discussed sustainability without a clear vision of what it would look like. Already we are seeing ways in which success will be continued and expanding:
- The Early Warning and Response System has been rolled out to all Greenville County Schools,
giving all administrators access to the GC Source system to see and address students who are off
- Greenville Health Authority has awarded a Healthy Greenville 2036 grant to sustain the School
Based Health Centers for another four years and to expand it to Carolina Academy and Berea
High School. As well as expand public health prevention in elementary feeder schools. It has
also included funding to add a Trauma Coordinator (following the learning on Adverse Childhood
Experiences) to the Greenville County Schools counseling staff.
- Communities In Schools recently received a grant from Healthy Greenville 2036 and is adding a
Student Support Specialists (SSS) to 9 th grade at Carolina High School and expanding SSSs and
after school support in the feeder elementary schools.
- BELL is expanding its OnTrack Greenville summer programs from just rising sixth graders to
rising seventh graders as well.
- The evaluation model and backbone staff are being pared back slightly because of reduced
compliance and evaluation requirements with the ending of the Social Innovation Fund grant,
which reduces costs and allows for funds to go to other program areas.
United Way staff and volunteers from partner funders will continue to look at both short term and long
term sustainability of the program. Further, stakeholders will be engaged in an thoughtful visioning and
planning process through 2018 to determine the sustainability and future of OnTrack Greenville.
Although OnTrack Greenville is just halfway through its five year startup period, its impact is already
clear. Student success is on the rise, school culture is changing, and funders are rethinking their roles
and requirements. In the update session on May 29 th , Dr. McCreary said, “Without a doubt, OnTrack
Greenville is the most important thing I have done in my career and the most important collaboration in
which Greenville County Schools has been involved.”
This transformation was possible only because of a tremendous investment of funds, time, energy and
passion. Because all partners have kept students at the center, we believe it will be a lasting transformation.