Investing in Innovation (i3) Grant Winner


July 2014

Diplomas Now 2014 Summer Institute:

Borrowing a Page from "The Lego Movie" 



More than 250 adults from 15 cities attended the sixth annual Diplomas Now Summer Institute in Baltimore and heard how the kids' film "The Lego Movie" actually also applied to their work of keeping kids on track to high school graduation: "We are a community of master builders. Everything is cool when you are part of a team! We all have the power to be 'the special' to our students if we believe in them and in ourselves."

as Now is about relationships - relationships we build with students and one another," said Diplomas Now Director Doug Elmer, sporting an orange safety vest like the one worn by an ordinary Lego construction worker in the movie. "You have to believe in yourselves and believe in your kids and take that to unlock the potential of your kids."


To kick off the two-day institute, Elmer celebrated Diplomas Now middle schools that met all their goals to keep students on track or get back on track in terms of attendance, behavior and course performance. They are:


  • Broadmoor Middle School (East Baton Rouge)
  • Allapattah Middle School (Miami)
  • Drew Middle School (Miami)
  • Edison Middle School (Miami)
  • Rhodes Middle School (San Antonio)
  • Clinton Middle School (Tulsa)


He also acknowledged some spectacular accomplishments by Diplomas Now high schools: 

  • Newtown in New York increased its college application rate from 85 percent to 95 percent of all seniors, and 91 percent of Newtown's graduates this year are heading to college!
  • Cardozo Education Campus in Washington, D.C., increased its ninth grade promotion rate by 16 percent this year.  
  • All three Columbus, Ohio, high schools made big gains in the pass rates on the Ohio Graduation Test with South High School posting a 27-percent increase in reading, a 15-percent increase in math and a 29-percent increase in writing. South also won a prestigious Straight A Fund award from the Ohio Department of Education!
  • Booker T. Washington High School in Miami posted a 6-percent increase in the number of students with overall learning gains, and Homestead High School in Miami showed a 9-percent increase in the proficiency rate on the Algebra I exam.

Elmer also recognized new support for Diplomas Now from major national funders, including AT&T, Atlantic Philanthropies, the Carnegie Corporation, the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, the PepsiCo Foundation and the Schusterman Family Foundation. He also pointed to significant local support from: GlaxoSmithKline (Philadelphia), the George Kaiser Family Foundation (Tulsa), Hermann Miller Chairs (Chicago), the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Paul Allen Foundation in Seattle. 



Photo Credit: Will Kirkwood, Homewood Photography


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Diplomas Now 2014 Awards 



School Transformation Facilitator of the YearJennifer Zeringue of Capitol Middle School in East Baton Rouge.  Always going above and beyond the call of duty, Jennifer has been described as the "heart of the school." She is the epitome of a team player, and her passion comes across to everyone as she always makes time for students, teachers and fellow team members.  She has impeccable organizational skills and a tenacity that is unsurpassed.


City Year Program Manager of the YearMark Worrell of Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles. Mark has always faced obstacles head-on with a "figure it out" attitude. He quickly and successfully built relationships around campus.  He is described by colleagues as organized, pragmatic, thoughtful, reflective and an all-around awesome person. He has greatly strengthened City Year's tutoring and after school programming and will continue to make great strides. 


Communities In Schools Site Coordinator of the Year: Melanie Poulson of South High School in Columbus. Melanie has worked tirelessly to fill a major void at her school to support students 

through non-academic barriers. She constantly follows up with students, and has even devoted Saturdays to helping. One of her students wrote, "She opened my eyes to the fact that college can give me the ability to see and understand the world and make a difference in it. Without her one-on-one coaching and support, I 

don't think I would have earned over $40,000 in scholarships and grants and been accepted to six colleges. People in the inner city just do not have the same starting point or opportunities as their counterparts. She has helped to level that playing field by providing academic

support, a safe place to talk, or even just a helping hand to make a person's life easier."


ELA Instructional Coach of the Year: Sheryl Lew of Rhodes Middle School in San Antonio.  Sheryl ensured that the corps members were prepared to help students in writing, and would frequently visit classrooms to assist teachers with instruction or writing assignments. She always has a smile on her face, and her positive energy has affected the school climate.  She always goes the extra mile and will deliver at least five exciting ideas for any project or initiative, demonstrating her incredible creativity.    


Math Instructional Coach of the Year: Patricia Hickman-Miller of Homestead High School in Miami. Patricia has been the anchor for Diplomas Now implementation for data, reflection and program evaluation. She is always willing to lend a hand and has been instrumental in helping teachers improve their craft. Her wisdom, expertise and team mentality make her an amazing person to work with and learn from.


Master Builder Award "Spirit of DN Award": Paul Verstraete. Paul noticed a definite need to identify students who were falling behind, and eventually learned that others had the same need. He developed and solved the need at his own school, and then shared it with other Diplomas Now sites. His Indicator and Intervention tracker is a highly replicable solution and has become a standard used throughout the network. He's an extraordinary member of Diplomas Now and has truly transformed the way educators can respond to the challenge of keeping students on track for graduation.


Principal of the Year: Mike Sabin of Dever McCormack Middle School in Boston. Mike is a true leader who always pushes his team to a higher standard every day. He is focused on long-term change for schools with a commitment to data for continuous improvement. Because of Mike's hard-work, integrity and accessible leadership style, one of the partners said, "I have become a better partner, a better collaborator, I have become more efficient, and hold myself and my work to a higher standard."


High School of the Year: Homestead High School in Miami. Homestead High School has jumped from a "D" school to a "B" school in just two years, demonstrating the team's dedication to improvement. The Diplomas Now team, which is full of leaders, has worked together to assess student data and institute a robust EWI system and highly effective report card conferences. The DN team provides numerous staff recognition and creates incentives for both students and teachers.


Middle School of the Year: Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle. Since its start with Diplomas Now six years ago, this Middle School of the Year has decreased behavior referrals by 62 percent and has increased attendance by 11 percent.  They have implemented attendance competitions between grade levels and have also implemented a school-wide Early Warning Indicator system. Aki Kurose Middle School exemplifies a fully integrated Diplomas Now model in day-to-day school operation.


Site Team of the Year: Gage Park High School in Chicago. This Diplomas Now team has remained dedicated and has become a positive influence for all students and staff, despite a multitude of climate and community obstacles. They aspire to improve every day by working together, while always welcoming feedback. They have implemented a successful EWI system and have prioritized engaging school leadership.






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