OnTrack Greenville kicks off year two

OnTrack partners and school staff and students at Tanglewood Middle present the initiative to Ms. Tionne M. Jackson, Legislative Correspondent with U.S. Senator Tim Scott
OnTrack partners and school staff and students at Tanglewood Middle present the initiative to Ms. Tionne M. Jackson, Legislative Correspondent with U.S. Senator Tim Scott

When a student begins seventh grade, she feels a level of comfort, unlike during the first year of middle school. She knows her way around, she sees familiar faces, she doesn’t give the locker combination a second thought. The things that tripped her up during her first year are now understood and manageable. But seventh grade can also get more serious and is when some students feel the real work begins.

Similar to the growth this seventh grader experiences, OnTrack Greenville partners are at the same point as they begin the ‘16-17 school year, the second year of this five year collaboration to ensure middle school students stay on track to graduate.

Initiative partners are focused on five year goals to impact four White Horse Road middle schools by increasing Math and English/Language Arts proficiency, reducing chronic absenteeism, and decreasing disciplinary referrals and out-of-school suspension rates.  The partners are singularly focused on the students, whom they place at the center of their work, seeking to remove all barriers to success at home and in school.

All partners began the second year with a focus on effectiveness.  Processes that took immense energy in year one related to communication, organizational roles, evaluation, and the Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) created a solid foundation for partners to begin the second year with greater ease and therefore increased early impact.

Partners also began the year with data and feedback from the initial implementation study report (which evaluates how the partners are implementing the work with fidelity to the model).  The reports provided learning opportunities to enhance their effectiveness, impact, and results in year two. Several themes emerged:

Continuous quality improvement, which is a core value of OnTrack Greenville, is guiding modifications to the interventions, collaboration and processes. During the summer, the Riley Institute – OnTrack’s evaluation contractor – delivered the first implementation reports to partners on how well they were sticking with their plans for implementation. They learned that although they have plans and a model they are following, the context in which they are implementing can affect how slow or fast they can go or how to adjust plans to meet the needs of the context.  One common theme among the five implementation reports was the importance of communication, clarity, and relationships.  The partners used these reports to strengthen the way in which they undertake the work in the second year. This opportunity to adjust and course correct is a hallmark of an initiative like OnTrack that has multiple years to learn and adjust for success and that has intensive evaluation to help do so.

Evaluation of outcomes is now underway. OnTrack Greenville has a three part evaluation process, which is focused on implementation with fidelity to the model (as just discussed), outcomes (in other words, whether the work is impacting the goals of attendance, behavior, and course performance), and overall process to understand what makes the collaboration “work.”  During year one, the groundwork was being laid for outcome evaluation, including establishing the largest and most complicated data sharing agreement that the school district has ever entered (with the Riley Institute and individual implementation evaluators) and the development of notebook-sized evaluation plans for each partner.

This year, those data will begin to be collected and analyzed to help understand if this complex collaboration does indeed keep students on track.

Continuous learning is another core value of OnTrack Greenville, and partners have demonstrated their interest in being part of an “innovative learning community” by participating in many convenings, trainings, surveys and partner meetings.  Teachers in the four middle schools responded to questionnaires about OnTrack Greenville, EWRS staff have met to share best practices and develop consistent methods, and all on-the-ground school staff have met to better understand each other’s work.  Interest in the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences – how trauma affects student performance and child brain development – is one example of a topic that all partners are pursuing.

Staff turnover appeared to be a challenge at the beginning of the school year, but partners now understand it to be a natural part of the life cycle of a cutting edge and intense program such as OnTrack.  Each implementation partner lost at least one staff member, but it provided the opportunity to find optimal replacements now that the duties and needed skill sets are better understood.  The teams are now operating with energy, camaraderie and a higher bar for effort and impact.

The collaborative funding model and early warning system is of great interest to the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) and other collaborations nationwide. Staff from United Way, OnTrack Greenville, Greenville County Schools, and Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy presented at the national SIF convening in Washington, DC in September. SIF grantees from other communities were amazed that funders had come together in such a collaborative way to make the initiative happen. They were particularly curious about how the United Way was able to raise match funds for OnTrack without “cannibalizing” its own campaign.  Staff from Greenville County Schools and OnTrack also presented on the innovative and robust early warning system, GC Source.  Attendees were impressed by the system and collaboration.

Implementation Partners interventions are impacting students.  Provided below is a brief summary of their impact during the reporting period:

BELL students perform at the end of summer closing ceremony attended by parents and siblings
BELL students perform at the end of summer closing ceremony attended by parents and siblings

BELL served 233 scholars at Berea, Lakeview and Tanglewood in their six-week academic program from June 15 through July 28, 2016.  The scholars received 156 additional hours of instruction during the summer program (from 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m.- four days a week) and were taught by highly qualified, certified academic teachers from the middle schools.  Field trips included college visits and BMW tour, and enrichment classes included Coding, Dance, and 4-H.  Average daily attendance was 80%, and 100% of parents reported their scholars enjoyed BELL.  The STAR assessment reported that students maintained academic learning in English and gained a half month in Math.  BELL is currently assessing this data and interpreting results to make improvements for next summer.  Further, BELL is hiring a full-time director of the Greenville program to work year-around.

Communities In Schools has three major activities in its logic model (identification of at-risk students, student-level needs assessments, case plan development) underway this school year.  During the fall 2016 semester, CIS has served 175 students and 90 parents/guardians with Tier I Student Support Services which addressing behavior interventions, enrichment & motivation, and academic assistance.

Greenville County Schools offered a second round of the semester-long Teen Leadership classes resulting in 254 students completing the course at the four grant locations.  Until the end of May, Mental Health Specialists (MHS) continued to facilitate weekly, grade-level Early Warning Response System team meetings, and to provide interventions for students identified as at risk for not graduating on time.  Monthly meetings facilitated by United Way gave mental health specialists a collaborative venue for providing feedback about the intervention process, use of resources, and improvements for GCSource and the Intervention Connection.

Greenville Health System staff have been integrated in the Early Warning Response team meetings at both Berea and Tanglewood.  GHS’s presence at these meetings has raised awareness among school staff of the school based health clinics, how they fit into the On Track initiative, who should be referred to the clinic from EWRS, and how health related issues are preventing a child from being successful in the classroom.  In addition, a Hallways to Health initiative has begun, which focuses on one health topic each month.  Topics include bullying prevention, smoking/tobacco use prevention, safe toys (i.e. bike safety, video games, etc.), flu prevention, healthy relationships, alcohol and substance abuse, healthy eating and mental health.

Public Education Partners continues to seek opportunities to build relational trust by being nimble and responsive to teachers and administrators’ needs, primarily engaging in “coaching light” and leading various professional development opportunities (workshops, presentations, teacher meetings) that had loose ties to balanced and disciplinary literacy.  In addition, PEP began planning for year two, plans that reflected efforts to align with the needs of the schools and the district while also ensuring grant-intended activities would be implemented with fidelity.

Communities in Schools staff from Lakeview Middle at the United Way Campaign Kick-Off featured with "The Lion Kings," a student male leadership group who recited their daily affirmation to the large crowd of attendees
Communities in Schools staff from Lakeview Middle at the United Way Campaign Kick-Off featured with “The Lion Kings,” a student male leadership group who recited their daily affirmation to the large crowd of attendees

Success stories continue to abound as students lives are impacted by OnTrack.  This impact was articulated through the 2016 United Way of Greenville County campaign video which featured OnTrack and the impact of Communities In Schools.  The video also highlighted the value and role United Way plays in solving community problems.

One success story comes from Tanglewood Middle School.   Eighth grader “Ethan” was referred to Communities in Schools through an EWRS meeting.  Faculty and staff identified Ethan as “spacey” and unwilling to complete his work. He had already failed several courses in the past and often got into trouble for roaming the halls and getting off task.

His CIS Specialist asked what his future plans were, and he lit up, saying he wanted to play football and basketball in college and professionally.  When she asked what his short term plans were to get there, he admitted he didn’t have a plan. This allowed her to segue into goal setting and showing him the requirements for being a college athlete.  Together, they established a plan for meeting eligibility requirements for the beginning of the basketball season. Since setting his own goals, Ethan has put forth tremendous effort and is actively completing his assignments and engaging teachers for extra help. He’s already shown an increase in his English and Social Studies grades.

Anecdotes such as this are encouraging and illustrate the nature of the work and the success.  All OnTrack partners are eager for the first outcome measurements, which will be available in late 2017, to demonstrate with this success is taking place initiative-wide.


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