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Partnering for Success: How Milwaukee Public Schools Is Leveraging National Service to Improve Low-Performing Schools

Partenring for Success


Partnering for Success:
How Milwaukee Public Schools Is Leveraging National Service to Improve Low-Performing Schools

Darienne Driver, EdD,
Superintendent, Milwaukee Public Schools
Meralis T. Hood, Executive Director, City Year Milwaukee
Jeff Jablow, Senior Vice President, City Year, Inc.
Phillip Lovell, Vice President of Policy Development and Government Relations, Alliance for Excellent Education
Kayla Stephan, Senior Impact Manager, City Year Milwaukee
Edie Turnbull, Executive Director, College Possible Milwaukee

On November 13, 2017, the Alliance for Excellent Education held a webinar that addressed how school districts can leverage national service programs like AmeriCorps to implement their plans for evidence-based school improvement under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA requires evidence-based interventions to improve low-performing schools, and effective partnerships with organizations that work with AmeriCorps members can play a significant role in supporting schools and districts across the country.

During this webinar, panelists highlighted City Year and College Possible as two examples of effective school improvement partners under ESSA for schools that do not graduate one-third or more of their students and are required to provide students with comprehensive support and intervention. Representatives from Milwaukee Public Schools, City Year, and College Possible discussed the collaborative work happening across Milwaukee Public Schools and across the nation to improve student outcomes and provide support for comprehensive improvement.

Panelists also addressed questions from the online audience.

Support for this webinar is provided in part by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Please direct questions concerning the webinar to If you are unable to watch the webinar live, an archived version will be available at 1–2 business days after the event airs.

The Alliance for Excellent Education is a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those traditionally underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.


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Phillip Lovell:              Good afternoon. I’m Phillip Lovell, Vice President of Policy Development and Government Relations here at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Welcome, and thank you for joining today’s webinar. The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, is the nation’s K-12 education law designed to promote educational equity, and prepare all students for post-secondary education in the workforce. Under ESSA, states are required to identify evidence-based strategies to turn around their low-performing high schools.


Currently, there are nearly 2,300 low-performing high schools across the country. These are high schools where one-third or more students do not graduate. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are evidence-based strategies available for states and districts looking to adopt innovative approaches to turning around these low-performing high schools. Today, we’ll discuss once such approach working in the Milwaukee Public Schools that uses national service partners to transfer learning for students.


Before we dive in, I’d like to introduce you to today’s panelists. In studio, I’m joined by Jeff Jablow, Senior Vice President of City Year Inc. Jeff, who has been with City Year since 2005, leads City Year’s national growth and impact planning and direct school turnaround collaboration work. Joining us via Skype are our friends making this work really come to life for the kids in Milwaukee.


First, we’re joined by Darienne Driver, the superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools. Dr. Driver, who was appointed superintendent in October of 2014, has focused her efforts on improving student outcomes, expanding high-performing programs, and strengthening college and career readiness. Second, we’re joined by Meralis Hood, executive director of City Year Milwaukee, a former teacher and high school administrator, Meralis maintains and reinforces strategic relationships with Milwaukee Public Schools, board members, philanthropic partners, and the wider community.


Next, we’re joined by Kayla Stephan, Senior Impact Manager for City Year Milwaukee. As a former City Year corps member at South Division High School, Kayla decided to build her career with City Year Milwaukee, where she currently leads the first mega team of 16 corps member serving grades three through eight.


And, last but certainly not least, we’re joined by Edie Turnbull, Excusive Director of College Possible Milwaukee. Under Edie’s leadership, where she has served in this role since 2011, the Milwaukee site had grown to serve more than 800 high school and 1,200 college students. College Possible Milwaukee recently received the 2017 Governor’s Service award for the AmeriCorps Program of the Year. Congratulations, Edie.


Milwaukee Public Schools is comprised mainly of low-income students of color, most of whom are African-American, and has adopted a collective impact strategy to accelerate student achievement while building positive relationships between youth and adults in the school community. Through the districts rethinking high schools’ initiative, efforts to prepare students for college and career had born fruit.


Enrollment in college-level courses, such as advanced placement and international baccalaureate course have increase, and there’s been a surge in students completing the free application for federal student aid, or the FAFSA form. The school district, however, continues to struggle with low graduation rates and stagnant economic achievement. With support from national service partners, such as City Year Milwaukee and College Possible, Milwaukee is working to ensure that students are on track to graduate college and career-ready with the tools and support to matriculate to post-secondary education.


Let’s learn a bit more about City Year and College Possible. Founded in 1988, City Year partners with public schools in 28 high-need communities across the US to help students and schools succeed. Diverse teams of City Year corps members provide research-based student, classroom, and schoolwide supports to help students stay in school and on track to graduate high school, ready for college and career success.


A 2015 study shows that schools that partner with City Year were up to two to three times more likely to improve on math and English assessments. City Year Milwaukee employs 100 AmeriCorps members to serve in 11 elementary, middle, and high schools across the city. College Possible, which was founded in 2000, provides intensive curriculum and coaching to support low-income students enroll in and complete college. Currently serving more than 30,000 students across the country, 98 percent of college-possible students are admitted to college.


These students are also twice as likely to attend a four-year institution, and twice as likely to graduate from college than their peers. College Possible Milwaukee serves more than 800 students in 14 partner high schools. Before we begin the discussion, I want to invite our audience to submit question for the panelists via the box below this video window. You can also submit questions or join the online conversation on Twitter using the hashtag service in schools. We’ll turn to your question a little later in the webinar.


And if you miss any of the webinar and would like to share it with colleagues, and an archived video will be available All for Ed dot-org/webinars. Now, to Jeff. Jeff, City Year is currently serving more than 300 schools across the country. Talk to us about the impact City Year is having on historically underserved students, and the process that you guys use.


Jeff Jablow:                 Great. Thanks, Phillip. City Year is one of the nation’s largest AmeriCorps programs. We have about 3,200 AmeriCorps members working 331 schools in 28 cities across 40 districts, so a pretty wide range of service across the country in high need, elementary, middle, and high schools. These corps members are deployed in diverse teams that range from up eight up to 20, based on sort of the needs of the school, and really partner directed with students and with teachers to accelerate learning.


So I’ll talk to you a little bit about how that works. Our corps members, again, deployed in these teams work to really form positive developmental relationships with individual students. And so a team of eight to 20 corps members can work with up to a hundred, or multiple hundreds of students individually. And they work to really build socioemotional and academic skills that students need to be successful.


So they’re directly in the classroom, really deploying extensively, and to try to serve all the corps, and math, and English classrooms. They’re working individually with students and in small groups. And they’re using data, both early warning indicator data, as well as socioemotional assessments and academic assessments to really try to develop a holistic understanding of student need and work together with other service providers, and schools, themselves, and teachers to ensure that every student receives the right support at the right time.


And that happens both within the school day and through the extended school day and after school. So our corps members are sort of extending that learning throughout the day and working intensively with students really targeting, again, grades three through nine, but really their elementary up to high school progression, so that a student will have a corps member that has that positive development relationship throughout their sort of educational experience in these high need communities.


We work in strong partnership with our district partners. You’ll hear from Milwaukee. And we work to ensure that we’re aligned with the state and the district approaches. So I know we’ll hear a little bit more about what’s happening in Milwaukee. For example, in the Wisconsin ESSA state plan, as the state was working on identifying their school improvement activities that needed to be evidence-based, there are a lot of aspects of the work that City Year really directly addressed.


So a couple of examples of – I mentioned how we use the early warning indicators, and try to arm schools with an ability to really implement an early warning system, and leverage the benefit of corps members really getting to know and understand students in that use of data that we have, to personalize learning, and to really arm other service providers as well. This directly goes against the accountability systems that Wisconsin, for example, put into their ESSA state plan.


So not only the academic achievement, and I know you mentioned some of the recent research that sort of demonstrates what that achievement in schools that partner with City Year, but also to work against other aspects such as chronic absenteeism. And the work that City Year is able to provide through the extra bandwidth and support into schools to help run schoolwide and targeted attendee campaigns.


And to really develop that relationship with students to try to address absenteeism, which really helps to support academic achievement, and ultimately high school graduation. You had mentioned the research that sort of demonstrates that schools at all levels, elementary, middle, and high school, have shown that they improved their academic achievement through partnering with City Year, and through that benefit.


We also had a recent randomized control trial that was in the field that some of the first results came back from some of our work in partnership with other partners. In this case, our diplomas now partnership with talent development in communities and schools, where we demonstrated that schools that had the program up and running not only reduced early warning indicators in the secondary grades. But they had a statistically significant decrease in chronic absenteeism in middle school, and, again, this increase in positive relationships and positive school climate.


Because we’re never satisfied with our results, and we’re always trying to learn, we recently were rewarded an IES research grant that we’re about to put into the field with AIR and MDRC to understand, at an even deeper level, how the direct student and whole school supports provided by City Air can really help develop student socioemotional and academic growth. So there will be another randomized control trial that will be happening in five cities in 21 schools to help further that understanding of how we can best support schools and students across the country.


Phillip Lovell:              Well, thanks very much, Jeff. And we often hear and know that schools lack the capacity that they need to serve all students well, and that one-on-one relationship is really critical. And City Air adds some additional people power to the mix so that we can have – so that each young person can really be known in this schools.


Jeff Jablow:                 Absolutely.


Phillip Lovell:              Excellent. So we’re gonna turn to our friends in Milwaukee, and let’s start with Dr. Driver; Milwaukee’s Public-School superintendent. Dr. Driver, thanks very much for joining us today. We know that there are a number of challenges faced by the Milwaukee community, from extreme poverty to racial segregation.


We also know that you’ve been working really hard to make a difference in the lives of students, and that you’re making an impact through your partnerships, and through your collective impact approach. So I’ve got a couple questions for you. First, can you just start out by telling us what’s your vision for Milwaukee Public Schools?


Darienne Driver:        Hi. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today in Milwaukee. I think what’s most important for people to understand is our view of our school district is that we are truly the educational, the economic, and the civic engine that can transform the city of Milwaukee. It’s truly a belief that we have. We feel that this transformation is mission critical for the well-being of our students, their families, and our community abroad.


And in order for us to really get to that place, there are a few key principles that must be acknowledge. First, that diversity is our greatest strength in Milwaukee. You don’t hear that often because of the segregation issues. But in Milwaukee Public Schools, that really is one of our corps beliefs. And in our district, I have the privilege to serve 76,000 children.


Eighty seven percent of them are students of color, and, yes, 55 percent are African-American, but I also want to note that 25 percent are Latino, about 13 percent are White, and seven percent Asian. So we really have a true breadth of diversity, not only a sense of ethnicity, but also about 20 percent of our students receive specialized services, and 11 percent are English language learners, and about 80 percent are free/reduced lunch, and still are living in poverty.


And so when we have all of these different conditions that our students are bringing to school, for us, it really presents an awesome opportunity to bring out community together around what students, what they deserve, and our responsibility as community members, as educators in Southeastern Wisconsin, and making sure that our students are successful.


A few things to point out, also. When I started as superintendent back in 2014, yes, I was officially appointed in October of that year, but July is when I started, and that’s the month that I typically reference. And so when I started in July, the Annie E. Casey Foundation had released their reports about Wisconsin, and basically saying that we were the state for every indicator for African-Americans in the country.


And that was a very, I would say, polarizing report, but it was a huge wakeup call for everyone. And a year later, in 2015, our department of public instruction issued a similar report that stated the gaps that we have in terms of performance are really attributed to the racial challenges that we have as a state. And so this forced a very different conversation than what was happening in our city and in our community.


And so we talk about collective impact. These were the conditions that really brought all of us together, and the work that we do with our Bear Port partners has really truly been at the heart of that. We’ve been fortunate in Milwaukee, and I know you’ll hear a lot about this today. We have a very supportive philanthropic community that wants to see our students succeed and thrive.


And so our public/private partnerships have really been essential to making sure that programs are getting off of the ground successfully, but that we also have the results to really be able to measure that. And so tied to our vision of really what we look at as our high-leverage strategy around collective impact, also the implementation of our eight big ideas.


And one of those that really brings all of us together here today is around our rethinking our secondary schools, and what that work looks like. But this is truly what I would think of an all hands-on deck scenario. We did not get to where we are in Milwaukee overnight. And so the solutions are not quick fixes or a silver bullet, but really this is a journey for us in making sure that the narrative that you hear today about the progress that we’re making tomorrow.


That we really start to see those monumental gains that we are so ready to have for our students and for our community that’s worked so hard to help them get there.


Phillip Lovell:              Thank you very much. So I’d love to dive into one of these eight big ideas, specifically the one around the low-performing high schools. So we know that ESSA is really very different from NCLB. And while ESSA requires support for low-performing schools, it really leaves it to district leaders like you to determine the best way to improve these schools, where NCLB was much more of a let’s have one-size-fits-all, and everyone is sort of following the same game plan.


So how do you plan to use the flexibility that’s provided under the new law to transform Milwaukee’s low-performing high schools, and what role do you see City Air and College Possible playing in the strategy?


Darienne Driver:        An important part of our strategy around high schools, of course I’ve already mentioned collective impact, but it’s also around leadership. And we put quite a bit of emphasis around the leadership of a high school principal. They have the hardest job in our district, hands-down. And really thinking carefully about how we grow a pipeline for leaders, how we support our leaders, and how we really organize and build an infrastructure around them for success.


Our high schools are, in some respects, small cities. Our largest high school has almost 2000 students, and so when we think about all the different partnerships that must be coordinated within our schools, it’s forced us to really think much more critically about how we organize all the programs and initiatives that are in our schools. So everything from rethinking our career in technology programs. Everything that we’ve done with our culinary arts, with healthcare, financial literacy, and all of those different pieces.


And how we’re tying this much closer to a workforce development strategy, not just career technical education, has really been a change in that conversation. But none of this happens without partnership. And when we talk about college and career readiness, one of the biggest mistakes we’ve made over time is that we kind of make it college or career.


But we’re really talking about the same set of life skills that are our students need to be able to be successful. And that’s where our team from the AmeriCorps program have really come into support us with City Year, and having that runway that starts all the way back from third grade all the way through the ninth grade, has allowed us to build a pipeline of students who are receiving those supports around social and emotional learning, attendance and suspensions, and intervention, so that when they get to high school, they have a much better success rate.


Our City Year corps members are part of our family. They receive training in the summertime just like our new teachers and our current teachers. I do sit on City Year’s board, and really believe they espouse many of the corps values that they have, specifically, student’s first collaboration always. I think that has to be the way that you approach this work. The name on the front is much more important than the name on the back when you’re talking about a team.


And the same can be said for College Possible. Edie was there with us from day one when we first had our strategic action session two and a half years ago. Just planning around high schools, and trying to think differently. And they’ve created an infrastructure that now we’ve been able to replicate across our district, where we have near peers, who are working with collegebound students, and looking at our high school juniors and seniors, and making sure they have everything that they need to get over that finish line, and get into college successfully the first time around.


All of those pieces have to hand-in-hand if we’re going to see the results that we really want for our students. Right now, our graduation rate is right at 60 percent. We have just gotten our state report card back, and this is our new number, and it is going up, but unfortunately, it’s very true, we have a long way to go. But I don’t have an answer for how we get there if we don’t have the strong partnerships that we’re talking about today.


So with the flexibilities that we’ve been given, yes, we can be creative, and we can be innovative. But more than anything, we have to have infrastructure to support success. We need to really focus on leadership development, and that’s principals, teachers, and students. And, again, is those critical partnerships, and chasing after the data, listening to what the data tells us, and being very intentional about making the necessary corrections so that we have more students succeeding, graduating on time, getting into college successfully, getting into career successfully.


Phillip Lovell:              Thanks very much. And you’ve mentioned some key things in leadership, data. And it sounds like you have this frame called collective impact. I just want to dive into that for just a moment. Can you describe for our audience what you mean by collective impact strategy?


Darienne Driver:        Yes. So when you think about collective impact, there are a number or key principle that really shape what it means. But to give the clearest example, sometimes I’ll just talk about the five-in-one collaborative very quickly. So at one of our elementary schools, we started four years ago now. And we basically had that organization and Northwest Mutual, that not only provided the fiscal resources, it also gave us a framework for research, and to be able to help us scale and sustain the program.


We had City Year that provide social and emotional support. Teach for America, that focused on new teachers and professional development. Schools That Can, that focused on the leadership development, and then the school district, obviously, was part of that really helping the day-to-day operations of the school. And so it’s about people coming together with a shared mission and vision around not only what’s possible, but what we want to see happen for us with student achievement, without question.


Making sure that we have aligned resources. And, again, it’s not only fiscal, but the infrastructure, the human capital, the time that it was going to take to be able to make this happen. Having a joint accountability measures. And so we’re making sure that we’re looking at the same data points. Also, being very intentional about how we share data, how we use it, how we’re measuring success. And then having a collective strategy around how we were going to communicate that to sustain the program, and be able to eventually replicate the program.


And this has really been a model that was started – you know, it was five years ago now, and we’ve been able to replicate in so many different ways. And the same thing on College Possible. The success that we’ve seen now with our FAFSA, and having over 72 percent of our students complete the FAFSA up from 49 percent just last year. It happened because we had the city of Milwaukee, Milwaukee 16th, which is our strive network.


College Possible, Team Gear-up, and the school system, all-hands on deck to help our students – oh, and City Year, can’t forget my City Year, to be able to get to that finish line. And everything, we do, the first question is who else is trying to accomplish this? What resources do they have? How do we figure out how to align them and share them? And let’s go for it, and let’s make sure that our student can succeed because we have figured out how to coordinate and collaborate together and get results.


Phillip Lovell:              Oh, thank you very much. I think you provide a really great example of this is partnership on steroids with your collective impact strategy. It’s not just a partnership here, and a partnership there on little programs. It’s really different organizations coming together with the school district all towards the same goals. So congratulations on just some really terrific work.


And we’ll dive even deeper into that work by turning to Meralis Hood, the executive director of City Year in Milwaukee. So Meralis, can you describe for us some of the corps components of City Year’s partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools, in particular, your work with high schools, and what are some of your outcomes?


Meralis T. Hood:        Yeah. So Darienne Driver really made a great point by talking about our data, and just how we make our decisions, right. So it all starts with data-informed decisions, coming together to the table with our teachers, with our principals, with our district, to see where the data is taking us. And that really is at the corps of City Year’s strategy in Milwaukee. We look at our schools, we’ve set a common goal with the district of increasing high school graduation rates.


And so what we’ve done is we’ve looked at the schools that have the lowest graduation rate, and we found that six of our high schools actually hold the majority of the low graduation rates. And so we really want to make sure that go into the schools that are feeding into those schools, right. We start the high schools, we work our way back to the middle and elementary schools, where those students are coming from.


And what we’ve done is we can see your early warning indicators, and Jeff talked a little bit about this. But we can see by name, which third grader is at-risk for not graduating high school because of their reading scores, or because of their math scores, because of their attendance. Or because of any type of learning that they need in socioemotional awareness, and socioemotional development.


And in using that data, the district and us were able to really look and pinpoint where we need to be strategically. We know that as an organization, we can’t be everywhere. So we’ve gotta be really, really smart with how we use the finite resources that we have. Another thing that we use in Milwaukee, other than that, is a lot of communication. Having a common goal, making data-informed decisions, those are great. But the communication and the feedback have to be constant.


We’re really grateful that Dr. Driver and her team are so open to really giving us feedback if we need to do better. We’re grateful to her team as well for allowing us to ask the hard questions. Right. Where do we need to be? Where can’t we go as an organization? What could we do better? Those are questions that we’re constantly asking her team, and they’re open with us in helping us just sharpen our work. And I think that that is critical to our success in Milwaukee Public Schools.


One of the things [inaudible], too. So last year, we were able to serve over 6,000 students, nearly 7,000 students. Our program will support whole school inanities. Again, coming alongside our principals, and thinking about what goal can we set in common with you. We’re not veering away from principal and district goals. We really want to push towards them. Really thinking about parent engagement as well. We were able to engage over 25,000 students [inaudible] school staff.


And that goes again to the district’s idea in terms of collective impact, right, being around community. Thinking about how we’re engaging our parents, how we’re bringing them into schools in strategic ways. Asking parent feedback. Giving them phone calls for positive reinforcement for our students. All those things add up to really, really strong partnerships and is needed in our schools.


Another thing I would point to in terms of success would be that nine out of ten teachers in Milwaukee Public Schools strongly agree that we foster a positive community for learning. The importance of making an impact on the climate of a school that may be deemed low performing because of its data, I think is really, really important.


I think that we need to continue to allow the positive stories that come out of our schools, to really join in that conversation, and thinking about how we’re impacting, and how were making it a positive and exciting place to be is something that we take very seriously. It’s no small thing. So we really appreciate the privilege and opportunity to do that in schools.


Phillip Lovell:              Well, it’s definitely no small thing, and you’re having no small impact. I love seeing the numbers there with 100 corps members, you’re making thousands of phone calls and serving thousands of young people. Before we turn to Edie, just I wanted to see if you could go into the detail just a little bit on your usage of data. So there’s two questions.


Could you describe when you say an early warning indicator system, what you mean by that, and also could you talk to us about the data sharing agreements that you have in place with the school district? I imagine that that’s gonna be something that’s on some people’s minds as they’re thinking about how this might apply to them. It’s just how could they put into place an agreement with the district so that you can use the data to support individual students?


Meralis T. Hood:        Yeah, I think it all goes back to relationship-building. when I talk about early warning indicators, I’m talking about students that are just below the mark in English, Language Arts, mathematics. As measured in the district, we use a star. But as measured by – it could be any district, right, any type of products monitoring system. So we’re looking at that.


We’re looking at students who, in terms of attendance, are below the mark in attendance goal, which we set it up to 95 percent. Anything below that, so students from 90-95 percent, to make sure that they are not credibly absent in schools. We want to make sure students are in school. And then for early warning indicators in socioemotional development, what we’re looking at is we’re looking at the ability for students to be in class, right.


So any time that a student has a disciplinary referral, or something like that, we’re working with those students to make sure that decrease the number of disciplinary referrals, and that we can support students in terms of decision making in that aspect. So that’s what I mean by when I talk about early warning indicators.


Phillip Lovell:              Great. Thank you. Following the attendance, behavior, and course performance, right. The ABCs, right.


Meralis T. Hood:        That’s exactly right. In terms of data, and how we share data with the district and with our schools, honestly, it all goes back to building that trust. It all goes back to being aware. Dr. Driver alluded to our corps members being trained a lot with our teachers. We make sure that our corps members are trained on how to use data appropriately, safely, right. So from the guidelines, and so on and so forth.


We want to make sure that we’re extremely respectful of the data that we use for our schools, and that way we’re utilizing it in ways that protect our students, and then in ways that serve them best. And so I think that the success in the way we share data with the districts has gone from the district really realizing that we’re gonna use the data respectfully, that we’re gonna have the proper technical support, right, to make sure that we process that data.


And that not everybody has free-for-all access to the data unless they absolutely need it. And so I think that adds a part of that trust in a relationship that we built with the district that allows us to have access to the data.


Phillip Lovell:              Great. Thank you very much. I think it’s a really important point because we often hear that data, or really FERPA, is a barrier to this type of work. But you figure it out if you really want to, if you have the leadership at hand to ensure that you can actually identify students, support students, while maintaining their privacy. So I appreciate you addressing that.


So let’s turn to Kayla, whose career path was shaped by her experience as a corps member. And she served a corps member for two years in Milwaukee Public Schools. And now you’re on staff for City Year. So tell us about the day in the life of a corps member in City Year working with Milwaukee Public Schools.


Kayla Stephan:            Sure. Good afternoon. Every day is different, right. So I’m gonna take you through what could be a day in the life of a corps member, and what do now. As you mentioned, I am a manager, and I lead my team to lead a day similar as this. So you say good morning, greeting your students. So you’re in the part of the building. You’re clapping. You’re cheering. You’re getting them ready and jazzed for the day.


We don’t know, as mentioned – as Dr. Driver allude to earlier, they’re coming in with all sorts of barriers to getting their education. Right. So we’re here to say you’re here today. That’s great. Let’s get focused. And we’re here to support you in that. I may then head to a class where I support my partner teacher in giving out breakfast to the students. Every morning, they get breakfast, and then maybe we transition to literacy. And during that time, I’m circulating the room.


I’m going one-on-one with each student knowing that even the greatest teacher in the building can’t, in one period of time, have the opportunity to have a touchpoint with every single student on that one-on-one level. And then we pull out a group of five or so, and focus on those students. We’ve heard a lot about data and informed decisions. And in that case, I also make sure that the lesson plans that I’m writing are data-informed. Right. I look at their reports.


Where are some gaps? How do they relate to the other students in that group, and how do I differentiate my instruction to them, while using data – excuse me, _____ based strategies that corps members are trained on. I then may go back to the City Year room, and make some attendance phone calls. Right. So maybe I set a goal with the student on that Monday morning, and we said, okay, we’re gonna get to school on time four out of the five days this week. Right.


And then I’m gonna maybe call that parent and say, hey, just so you know, I met with the student. Here’s what we’re working on. They’re working on setting their alarm the night before, or having their clothes laid out, you know, those baby steps to really get them there and ready to go. It was also alluded to that we do SEL socioemotional learning coaching as well. So we talk about maybe the student is having issues with participating in class. How do we encourage them to raise their hand and participate, or to engage in productive conflict?


We know in the high schools, in particular, there’s conflict there, to be resolved in a respectful and productive way, and really setting goals around that with students would be a big part of my day as well. And then it does not end when the bells rings for students to go home. That’s when we then support with after school. So whatever that after school partner may be, we’re doing some extra tutoring in that space.


We’re doing social justice talks. We’re doing a variety of things that kind of bridges that gap between the day school and after school, and really providing a safe space for students in that way as well. But I think that pretty much covers, and of course there’s some fluctuating there. But at the end of the day, those would be some of my main tasks.


Phillip Lovell:              Terrific. Thank you very much. It sounds like while the day in the life of a City Year corps member may each be different, it sounds like they are each long, and certainly comprehensive in the support that you’re providing to students, so thank you very much. So, finally, let’s hear from Edie Turnbull, the executive director of College Possible Milwaukee.


Edie, College Possible plays an important role in ensuring that students are equipped with the tools that they need to enroll and succeed in college. We heard about the huge increase in the number of kids filling out the FAFSA form, I think, as an example. So tell us about the work that you’re doing in Milwaukee, and the outcomes that have resulted.


Edie Turnbull:             Sure. And you nailed that exactly right. What we’re all about is helping low-income Milwaukee students earn college degrees. So if you think of the whole course of a student’s career in elementary, and middle school, and then high school, City Year is working with the students from later elementary school, into middle school, and then the beginning of high school. So we see the work that our AmeriCorps coaches are doing with students to be a really great transition from the work that City Year is doing with the students in the high schools.


So we are – they’re priming them. They’re attending their grade level, and all those great things, that then makes, frankly, our work easier, in the school. And the work that we’re doing in high schools is really all about helping students, who, in most cases, more than 90 percent of our students are the first ones in their families to even think about going to college. So we’re there, and the AmeriCorps members are there to be a person, to be alongside the student and help them mandate.


The path to college is pretty complicated if you don’t have anybody in your family who has done that before. It can be overwhelming, and there are all kinds of different points at which you can just throw up your hands, and say I can’t. I can’t do it. But because we have near peer coaches, so recent college graduates who are there in the high schools all day with students, they’re there to help them figure out what they need to do.


And the outcomes that we look at, specifically with regard to that, are for our junior students, we measure ACT improvement. So a little of our junior take a baseline ACT with us when they start at the beginning of their junior year. And we measure their increase over time, giving several practice tests, and then taking – and we have the ACT as a state test. So they take that, and our students will also take the official ACT test in April as well. So we measure our students and their ACT increase.


Because whether you love the ACT or hate the ACT, it’s a fact of life for most colleges. They have to have certain scores in order to be considered. And so we help students get the best possible score that they can get on an ACT, so that their chances of having choices when it comes to where college _____ choices. Then we help them with all of the different things that come after that, from admissions, and writing letters, and getting good recommendations letters, and completing their FAFSA, and applying for scholarships.


And understanding and knowing everything about financial aid. So when students are working with us in high school, those are the pieces. And for outcomes for ACT, on average in any given year, our students are increasing their score by 18 percent. For our seniors, about 95 percent, in any given year, have earned admission to four-year colleges. And we have this last year, 83 percent of our students who had earned admission are actually in school this fall. That’s a big component.


Once they give in, it’s great. But what happens after they graduate from high school until college starts can be a little iffy. So we continue to work with them all the way through there. And like I said, all the way through until college, our students persist at about an 80 percent rate semester-to-semester and year-over-year.


Phillip Lovell:              That’s is terrific. I think the idea of having young people who have recently gone through the labyrinth that we call the college admission process, working with other students to do so, I think makes all the sense in the world. And not only does it make sense, but you’re actually producing outcomes that’s outstanding. Before we turn to questions that we’ve received from the audience, and, remember, if you’d like to ask a question, please use the form at the bottom of this webpage, I’d like to first pose a question or two to Jeff here in the studio.


So, Jeff, City Year is a national service program, and that means that City Year corps members are AmeriCorps member. AmeriCorps is a federally-funded program that provide funds to nonprofit organizations so they can hire volunteers to carry out evidence-based service on a wide range of issues. So half of AmeriCorps resources support education.


So since AmeriCorps, and, therefore, City Year, receives federal funding, this means that what happens in this crazy town called Washington D.C. has a direct impact on the work that you do in the classrooms that you serve throughout the country. So the question is what role does congress play in sustaining these programs, and what’s the current status of funding for AmeriCorps?


Jeff Jablow:                 Well, it’s great to be in this crazy town called D.C., and congress plays an absolutely critical role. There are over 80,000 AmeriCorps members serving across the country on a wide range of issues. By far, the most prevalent is in education. More than half of all the AmeriCorps resources are devoted to education. There are AmeriCorps members serving in 12,000 traditional public, public charter, and parochial schools across the country.


Most recently, the Whitehouse budget guidance was to actually eliminate AmeriCorps. And it is only through the great work that is happening throughout the country, and bipartisan support in congress, where the most recent labor HHS appropriations bill through the house and the senate actually level-funded AmeriCorps, which basically maintains the resources that we have across the country.


And that is because of the great work that’s happening in schools across the country that’s not just happening in insolation, through the partnerships that you see in Milwaukee. AmeriCorps programs take it as an important strategy to actually communicate the work that is happening, and letting legislators and other community members know about the importance of this work, and the return on investment it represents for their communities.


And great convening organizations like Voices for National Service that really help tell that story, has resulted in congress, and, again, that bipartisan support that exist to support the critical service in AmeriCorps resources across the country.


Phillip Lovell:              Thanks very much. I think it’s safe to say that a cut to AmeriCorps is a cut to public schools. And it’s great that, at least so far, the house and the senate have rejected the administration’s proposal to eliminate the program. And hopefully when we have final appropriations bills, it could be in December, we could have another continuing resolution after that. We don’t know. But hopefully funding for AmeriCorps will be safe and sound.


So I want to go back to one of the issues that we discussed earlier for just a moment, and that is on the use of data. We know that using data is critically important for improving graduation rates. We also know that maintaining student privacy is very important, and is a requirement within the law. So with City Year doing a lot of this work, can you tell us how City Year is addressing this issue of use of data and data privacy nationally?


Jeff Jablow:                 Absolutely. And it’s really – it’s building off the great work that Dr. Driver and Meralis’s team are doing in Milwaukee. We have about half our districts right now that are actively working with City Year that have strong data sharing agreements that allow for the support and use of student data directly in an automated secure way that goes into City Year’s student information system. So it alleviates any associated risk with sharing data individually at a school, or sort of handing it off.


What we’re working on is try to be a leader in the field to actually share data in an automated fashion, in a way that is secure, and that allows us to have the requisite permissions, and sort of the school district/city levels, so that can really be the standard. And so we’re working on starting with the agreements that happen at the district level, and, again, Dr. Driver was sort of a leader in that with us in partnership with City Year.


And then we sort of get our IT team working with the district IT teams to make sure that those connections are secure in an automated fashion so that the individual corps members have the requisite data they need to be successful, and similar with our other staff members. And so we’re actively working on that across the country.


Phillip Lovell:              Thank you very much. Well, it sounds like we can learn from Dr. Driver about how to make this data stuff work, and a whole lot more. And speaking of Dr. Driver, I’m gonna throw a question to you. We received a question from a parent in Trenton, New Jersey, who wants to know if there’s a significant cost to the school district for implementing these reforms to improve low-performing schools, and what funding sources are used to support the work.


Darienne Driver:        So in terms of the cost that we incur for these services, it’s important to note for College Possible, these are actually resources that are provided free of cost to the school district. Edie does a significant amount of fundraising, and Meralis does as well. But there is no cost for us at the district for College Possible. But the communities, there is a significant amount of philanthropic support to support College Possible.


For City Year, we look at it as being cost-effective, and it runs at $100,000.00 per school. So our annual total right now is at 1.3 million dollars. We are able to use resources from Title 1, from school improvement grants, and our school district operational funds to be able to offset the costs. There is also the contribution from philanthropic, and the contribution from AmeriCorps. And I’m sorry, I left that out, and College Possible as well.


What I think is important to note with City Year, there are seven to ten corps members inside of every school. Those corps members are at the school during the day, actually before school, during school, and after school in our community learning centers. Their activities in the community learning centers is at no cost to the district. These are services they provide on top of what they normally do. I also think it’s very important to note that they are a primary pipeline for teachers for the district.


So every year, we’re getting more and more corps members who want to stay and become educators in Milwaukee Public Schools. And so when you think about the amount of training and support, professional development in the coursework that the students are already taking, then staying onboard and working in Milwaukee Public Schools, it’s really priceless when you think about the exponential growth that we’re seeing in terms of our workforce, as well as the students that we’re serving.


And, finally, I would just say having both College Possible, City Year, and all of our AmeriCorps programs, we are really recruiting and retaining excellent talent to the Milwaukee region. And this is something that’s a consistent goal across all of our schools. And when you think about the cost of losing a teacher over being able to gain a teacher. And the teacher that already had experience as a near peer working with students, who have been identified as being high needs, it’s really invaluable.

So while there are those upfront costs, you could say when you really think about how much it’s paid forward over time, with the investment that we’re making, it really is worth its weight in gold.


Phillip Lovell:              Well, the fact that City Year is providing support to students while also creating a pipeline of teachers for the distract, I mean, it’s really just a nice multifaceted approach to the issues of education that we’re facing. One of those huge issues, of course, is the quality of the teaching force, and that you’re able to use City Year to simultaneously strengthen the quality of instruction, while also supporting students, is really pretty phenomenal.


Speaking of which, I’d love to turn a question to Meralis and to Kayla. Can you talk about the professional development or the training that’s provided to City Year members before you step into the classroom, and then throughout your service, what type of professional development is provided, and who provides the professional development?


Meralis T. Hood:        Yeah, so I’m gonna talk a little bit about it at a high-level, and then I’ll have Kayla talk a little bit about the strategies that corps members are trained in. In terms of who provides it, we’ve got different providers. The district does provide training, so our corps members actually sit in trainings with teachers, specifically around trauma-informed care, which is really important in our district.


I talked about student safety policies, and all those kinds of school polices, our corps members are also very aware of those. Corps members are also invited to take part in weekly professional development at the school level, which they really do take advantage of and appreciate being part of that staff team, and take part in that. Here at City Year, our corps members start the year off with a six-week basic training retreat.


And during that time, our corps members are really immersed in everything from learning strategies to building relationships, to understanding the scope of our work here in Milwaukee, just getting to know our city, itself. I mean, we’re a city with a lot of wants, an exciting city. We’re a great place to be. Sixty percent of the corps members have served, actually are from outside of city. And so it’s exciting to introduce them to our students, to our communities, to our neighborhoods. That is definitely part of their development as well.


And, also, that development is done by our impact managers and corps members. We also have a number of community partners that are professionals and are experts in the work of building relationships. They’re experts in the work of really getting to critical points of that self-care and need as you work in schools that are difficult places to work in sometimes. And so really leading our corps members in that. Our community partners have been excellent strategists alongside us. But I want Kayla to talk a little bit about the actual strategies that corps members utilize in schools as well.


Kayla Stephan:            Yeah. I think I would just add in addition to what Meralis said, we also think about culturally-responsive teaching, right, how – not only a strategy that’s research-based. And we’re talking about literacy and math. But how can we really connect to that student by learning their interests, and connecting academics to that, I think is critical, and that’s something that corps members are trained on. So we have a list of strategies in ELA and in math that are proven to work.


And this idea of really teaching students how to utilize strategies as another tool in their toolkit, so that when they are without a corps member next to them, or when they’re taking the ACT, what are these strategies that can help them to cope what they’re being asked to do, so around comprehension, and things around that. So it’s using content to teach student strategies. And I think that’s a key part of the work that we do.


And then how do – what I found to be amazing is collaborating with partner teachers on here are the strategies we’re using, and then it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. They’re teaching us what they use with their students, and how can we align those strategies.


Phillip Lovell:              Got it. We received a question from Valerie in New Jersey that says how is the team that handles this initiative structured, and what advice would you have for other cities or states who are embarking on similar endeavors?


Darienne Driver:        Okay. This might be something we can all jump in on. In terms of how we’re organizing the Milwaukee Public Schools, I have a chief academic officer, and a chief innovation and information officer. So on the side of the school improvement work that’s happening, that’s coming from my innovation office. This is the office that funds City Year at the district level for the schools that receive the district level funding.


This is the team that meets regularly with City Year, and that’s with executive director – I can’t remember what’s _____ role? Oh, the managing director of impact, along with the project managers. We have an infrastructure that’s built into the schools where they have operational meetings that provide check-ins for them. In the work that we do with College Possible, that is housed on the chief academic side with my college and career readiness office. I have a director that runs that work.


We now have college and career access centers located in 21 of our 24 high schools. And so now there’s actually a hub where our College Possible team is already housed inside the school. I left that out. We have our corps members from both teams that are housed inside the school. Now, there is also a place where students can gather and meeting with all of the different programs that we have that are supporting college readiness, career readiness, in a hub inside of the school, and they’re able to work together, again.


These teams, they’re working together – and I’ll let them tell you, they’re in the schools having meetings, jointly. Focusing on students, jointly. Now, we have overlap in three schools between College Possible and City Year. So really being able to hone in on those students that are receiving services from both organizations to maximize impact.


Edie Turnbull:             I would just add that you can’t really overemphasize the importance of having the AmeriCorps members in the school all day. So that they’re not seen as they just drop in after school, and do their little thing, but they’re actually a part of the school culture, and they actually influence the school culture. I think it works really well both ways. We see both things, that our corps members, once they get in schools, and I bet Meralis would agree with this, they become so engrained in that school. They love their school.


They really – they become immersed because they’re there with these students all day. And that’s very critical just in terms of making sure that everybody is on the same page, on a consistent basis. So while I’ll meeting with Dr. Hill in college and career readiness. And sometimes I meet with Dr. Driver, and sometimes I meet with Meralis. What’s really important is that the people who are on the frontlines are talking to each other, and they’re doing it on a daily basis.


Meralis T. Hood:        I think one of the things is really is an example to us in the leadership in our schools. Dr. Driver mentioned the leadership in the school as being really a critical piece of the success of each school. And for us, being able to pair each principal with an impact manager, so somebody was there year-after-year, our corps members are fantastic. And what’s exciting about our corps members is we get an exciting new group every single year.


And so it gives us an opportunity to onboard a whole new group. But what we’ve done is we’ve been able to establish a consistency in schools with the impact manager and the principal. So I want Kayla to talk a little a bit about how that impact manager/principal relationship really guides that success.


Kayla Stephan:            Yeah. It’s been absolutely critical to the success of my team at the school that I’m at right now. I think about – I mean, you heard a day-to-day for our corps members can be very in the now, right. Like one day is different than the next. My role, I have a privilege to be able to look ahead knowing times, when are we testing? What is next year? What do we want to look – what does the team want to look like next year? What things have worked?


What things have not, and how do we take the best, and leave the rest kind of thing. So the principal that I work with, she actually – she meets with my team weekly, which is huge. And she hears from the team, and then her and I meet. We talk about, okay, here – the boots on the ground. Here are what they see. Here’s what they feel. What things can we put into place to start [inaudible] indirectly our students then? And you can really feel that walking into the school, engrained in the culture.


City Year, what do you think about this? City Year, can you support in this way, and that way? And that really speaks to the school I’m at. We’ve been there for eight years, and we’re practically standing on the shoulders on the giants before us. And I’m setting up the person, who will be in my role in years to come, and how to really succeed in that specific schools, and what things work, and what things do not. But that takes collaboration, and it takes communication is the biggest piece for me in that area.


Phillip Lovell:              Thank you very much. So we’ve got question for one last question. So we’ve talked a lot about partnerships. Can you talk to us about the role of parents, what are the role of parents in this work, and what efforts are made to ensure that they’re included in the decision making, whether it’s having to do with making sure that children are coming to school on time, or making sure that students are turning in their paperwork to apply for college?


Darienne Driver:        So we have a few ways that we do that. One, we have a parent coordinator that’s housed in every school. In Milwaukee Public Schools, that’s funded using our Title 1 dollars for parents’ involvement. We also have a school engagement council that’s operating at every school. And so this is a body that helps us give advice on budgeting, on the programs, on expansion ideas, really giving us a pulse on what’s happening in the school.


We also have really rebirthed a number of our student advisory councils that are located in the school. We do have a district advisory council that’s made up of all of our parents, and we have a superintendent student advisory council. But it’s important that we have those voices at the school level as well. One of the things that I love about the two programs that we’re speaking more specifically today are the efforts that are made constantly.


Because, often times, we think for parent engagement, that that means that they must come physically into this building and be present. But you can also be present, but just not be here if you’re working two shifts, if your home is located at quite a distance, which we have with a lot of students in Milwaukee. And so the use of the phone calls. We use remind, which is a testing app that allows us to send mass messages out to our schools.


That’s really helped us build better relationships with families. So of the thousands of calls that you see on the documents that you’ve gotten, it isn’t because something is wrong. The majority of those calls are when something is right. And so really emphasizing to the families how important it is to have that positive communication with their students is key. What I will say is parent involvement is something we’re always trying to improve upon. We’re not there yet.


But I think that we’ve really come leaps and bounds in terms of our family involvement. And hearing their expectations of us, and also being able to communicate our expectations around the full support that’s gonna be necessary for their child to be successful.


Phillip Lovell:              Well, thank you very much. It looks like we have run out of time. It’s been a pleasure having each of you on the panel today to learn more about the role that national service members play in improving low-performing schools, and about the importance of partnership in improving low-performing schools. You guys just make – it’s an excellent example of this collective impact strategy, and how we all need to come together to support our public schools. It’s not just the role of the schools, it’s really everybody. I want to thank our audience for joining and participating with questions. If you missed any of today’s webinar, or if you’d like to share with your colleagues, archives video will be available tomorrow at With that, thank you very much for joining us. We hope that you join us for future webinars on these critical topics. Have a great rest of the day.


[End of audio]


Categories: Every Student Succeeds Act, Secondary School Improvement

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