08 Mar OnTrack Greenville: cooking with oil in year three
It is hard to believe that OnTrack Greenville is in the third year as it feels like yesterday that we met together to envision an innovative way to impact middle grade success. Partners agree that they are now “cooking with oil,” as they have learned from the first year, applied their learning in the second year, and as a result, are seeing the positive outcomes in the beginning of this third academic year.
Partners have expressed that they are now maximizing opportunities and tapping into new services to keep students in the White Horse Road communities engaged and on track to graduation. For example, a Mental Health Specialist who facilitates an early warning meeting stated,
“Through the coordinated early warning and response system, we have been able to identify early on students who need additional assistance and have implemented preventive interventions to keep students on track. For example, we have some students who have been dealing with homelessness. We have worked together as team with Communities In Schools, Greenville Health System, the school social worker, and our school staff to assist these students with some of their basic needs including uniforms while working toward finding a solution for housing. This has enabled students to still attend school during this time of transition and not fall behind with coursework.”
The commitment to and connections through OnTrack have expanded partners’ work beyond their original commitments. This was seen during a monthly Implementation Partner meeting when one principal’s honesty and vulnerability about the challenges students face opened a door for the Greenville Health System to bring resources and training to the schools related on how trauma, toxic stress and Adverse Childhood Experiences affect development of students living in poverty or in crisis. As a result, all of the faculty and staff at the OnTrack Schools attended Compassionate Schools training in October and are implementing practices with the support of a Trauma Coordinator funded by a grant from Healthy Greenville 2036.
In the beginning, partners and stakeholders could envision success. In the second year, impact on students was beginning to take root. Now, in the beginning of the third year, success has been documented and proven in several areas.
Collective Impact. It has proven a wise decision to use the “collective impact” model as a framework for collaboration. Using the model and structuring meetings and convenings over the last two years to create conditions that foster dialogue, problem solving, and the use of data/evaluation for learning has built strong relationships, trust, and allowed partners to be vulnerable.
As part of OnTrack’s process evaluation, partners were asked to respond to the statement “Are we achieving more together than each could achieve alone?” At the beginning of the initiative, the majority of partners answered that statement with “not so much;” however, by the end of two years on this collective impact journey, all partners responded with “completely.” The process evaluators also asked partners their thoughts on the value of participating in OnTrack Greenville, and the majority of partners rated very high the statement, “OnTrack has improved my ability to contribute to a complex change process that reaches beyond my own direct influence.”
While the overall goals are to improve attendance, behavior, and course performance, there is no doubt that being a part of OnTrack Greenville has made a significant impact on each individual, subgrantee, and organization involved. It is exciting to see this level of thoughtful collaboration in action and also see it formally through evaluation.
Scaling and Expansion. One of the mottos and expectations of the Social Innovation Fund is to “find what works and make it work for more people”, and the initiative has already found at least two ways to meet this expectation.
The School Based Health Centers, which have “consent to treat rates” that are higher than the national average for school clinics, and a 94% return to class rate for students, will now be sustained for another five years and will expand to Carolina and Berea High (the schools from which OnTrack students will graduate), thanks to a $3.38 million Healthy Greenville 2036 grant from the Greenville Health Authority. This grant also allows health related work to expand to feeder elementary schools and ensure integration of the compassionate school models which has a focus on addressing and reducing trauma for students.
In addition, Greenville County Schools expanded the Early Warning Team model to ten pilot schools in the 2017-2018 academic year. This means that ten additional schools (many of which are OnTrack feeder schools) are using data to promptly identify students who are off-track, and OnTrack teams talk about the students and determine how to get them back on-track. These schools currently do not have the additional intervention support that is available in the pilot OnTrack middle schools; however, schools are working with the social work department and others in the community to support students. Greenville County Schools plan to continue scaling for the next three years. The OnTrack backbone staff is engaged in this expansion and are seeking new financial streams to support this expansion. This is a significant success for OnTrack Greenville and strong evidence of long-term sustainability.
Partner success, learning, and engagement. Each of the five implementation partners have continued to grow, learn, and improve their work with students, with a few key examples.
BELL’s Summer 2017 scholars – rising 6th graders – experienced a two-month learning gain in both English Language Arts and Math. BELL is now looking to expand to rising 7th graders, and is a further example of scaling within the initiative.
Over 90% of the Communities In Schools students that were surveyed indicated that they worked on their academic, personal, and behavioral goals with program staff. In addition, 89% of students surveyed indicated that they like being part of CIS this year. Among case-managed students who reported having issues or challenges in school that kept them from being able to do their best on school work, a high percentage reported that the program staff helped them with their challenges.
Strong anecdotal evidence suggests that Teen Leadership classes in Greenville County Schools have the potential to impact positive youth behavior and skill development. The student survey showed only a few areas of significant growth, but qualitative feedback from students and teachers suggested an impact on students’ behaviors, and teachers reported that they experienced personal growth as a result of teaching the class.
Connections with parents and the community as partners have strengthened significantly and new partners continue to join forces with OnTrack. For example, United Way’s Women in Leadership affinity group is mentoring students and teaching leadership and self-esteem building classes to students. Momentum Bike Clubs now meets at each site, and students ride on the Swamp Rabbit Trail after school.
At the beginning of the school year, all of the OnTrack partners as well as additional community partners gathered at two OnTrack Schools to welcome students back with “High Fives for Kids.” Additionally, the Community and Parent Engagement work group is thriving and implementing parent-focused activities throughout the year.
Outcomes. The Riley Institute at Furman University has been the evaluation partner since the beginning of the initiative, leading the assessment of implementation to measure whether each subgrantee is implementing the work with fidelity, and is making a difference on attendance, behavior, and course performance. Researchers at the Riley Institute are currently putting the finishing touches on the first preliminary findings for the initiative. A sneak preview revealed:
- 29% decrease in the number of behavior referrals
- 20% decrease in the number of days of out of school suspension
- 23% decrease in the number of students with out of school suspension
Full impact evaluation reports will be available soon, and all GPP funders will be invited for a full presentation.
Sustainability. The other major work that occurred over this period was responding to the loss of Social Innovation Fund monies. Upon receiving the news, we convened stakeholders to discuss next steps, and they each agreed to continue with the initiative – at least through the initial five-year vision and to ultimately ensure it is sustained. They feel the impact is too great and the work not yet in a position to allow the loss of SIF funding to impede the progress we are making.
The formal close-out with SIF will occur in early 2019, and from that point on, OnTrack will be funded exclusively with private dollars. In terms of budgeting and expenditures, committees were formed to review evaluation, subgrantee continuation, and administrative/backbone costs. The preliminary impact evaluation findings are now available, and a subgrantee continuation process will ensure that funding is supporting those interventions that are having an impact on students. These decisions and processes will be complete by April 2018. Further, OnTrack Greenville partners and stakeholders will engage in adaptive “visioning” throughout 2018 to envision what the future of OnTrack beyond 2020.
OnTrack Greenville was launched with the promise of identifying students as soon as ABC challenges emerged to prevent later disengagement from school through the use of a coordinated team of educators and community experts in the school to match the student with the right response at the right time and monitor his/her progress. Now, almost three academic years into the five-year initiative, we can affirm that this is taking place.
But even greater, beyond the mechanics of the initiative and the outcomes for students, OnTrack Greenville has undoubtedly changed the way that community partners collaborate, how external organizations meaningfully interface with schools, and how adults can work together to keep students at the center.