Investing in Innovation (i3) Grant Winner


June 2015


Congrats on Another Great School Year!


Thanks to all of the Diplomas Now teams and school partners in all of our cities for another terrific year. Your hard work and dedication are paying off for thousands of students nationwide. In school after school, you have prevented students from falling off track - and also put more kids back on track. The work is challenging but you are making a difference. Enjoy the summer break with your families and friends! Let's keep up the fantastic work next school year!

Doug Elmer, director, Diplomas Now
Bob Balfanz, co-director, Talent Development Secondary
Charles Hiteshew, CEO, Talent Development Secondary
Dan Cardinali, president, Communities In Schools
Jim Balfanz, president, City Year



Second MDRC Report Demonstrates How Diplomas Now Helps Stabilize Schools


As part of the rigorous study of Diplomas Now, the research firm, MDRC, recently released the second of three reports evaluating the model. The May 2015 report, "Moving Down the Track," focuses on the second year of the Diplomas Now model and its integration into schools. It discusses how closely schools that implemented the Diplomas Now model followed the intentions of the model's designers during the first two years. In addition, the report highlights the differences in programs and services between the schools that implemented the model, and those that did not.


Key Report Findings

  • During both the second and first years of implementation, Diplomas Now partner schools implemented a majority of program components with fidelity to the model, but still had room for growth to achieve ideal implementation. On average, Diplomas Now schools were most successful in implementing those program components that involved adding new services and technology, provided directly by Diplomas Now staff members. Diplomas Now schools have been less successful thus far in implementing those program components that require schools or districts to modify their curricula or to institute or expand their instructional coaching for teachers.
  • Diplomas Now has resulted in differences between the programs of Diplomas Now schools and similar schools without Diplomas Now, suggesting that model implementation is changing school practices in ways that align with the goals of Diplomas Now. These differences grew from Year 1 to Year 2, in part because non-Diplomas Now schools reduced their services. This suggests Diplomas Now stabilized schools that might otherwise have lost services.
  • Although model implementation was somewhat hindered by factors external to the program (such as principal turnover and budget cuts), Diplomas Now staff members were also able to support schools through these types of transitions. School and program staff members reported that the Diplomas Now school-based teams had often been successful by the second year in becoming part of the fabric of the school. Program staff members suggested they were most successful when they could align the program with school goals and garner school administrator and teacher support.



Report Reveals Improved High School Graduation Rate; Progress Driven by Underserved Students


With the national graduation rate reaching 81.4 percent, the United States remains on track to achieve a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020, according to the 2015 Building a Grad Nation Report. The sixth annual report released by America's Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, Everyone Graduates Center, and the Alliance for Excellent Education reveals that the gains in the national high school graduation rate are primarily due to rising graduation rates among students who have traditionally struggled to earn a high school diploma. Furthermore, the report reveals that with focus and concerted effort, graduation rates can be increased in every part of the country.

The 2015 Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic report is co-authored by John Bridgeland, Jennifer DePaoli, and Erin Ingram of Civic Enterprises; and Robert Balfanz, Joanna Hornig Fox, and Mary Maushard at the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education in partnership with John Gomperts and his team at America's Promise and Bob Wise and his team at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Key Report Findings

  • Progress was driven by significant gains in some of the 10 largest states, including California, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. But future gains are threatened by declining or stagnating graduation rates in New York, Illinois, Washington and Arizona, which together educate 15 percent of the nation's high school students.
  • Some districts are making tremendous progress while others are lagging or even going backwards. Much of the recent gain has been driven by one-quarter of the nation's 500 largest school districts which have been able to rapidly improve their graduation rates. Between 2011 and 2013, 124 of the 500 largest districts saw improvement of more than three times the national average.
  • To achieve a 90 percent graduation rate for all students, the nation needs 310,000 more graduates in the Class of 2020 than in the Class of 2013 which, based on recent progress, is obtainable.
  • The decline in the number of "dropout factories," or schools with low graduation rates, contributed to the continued improvement in graduation rates. While there were 2,000 such schools in 2002, there were fewer than 1,200 of these schools nationwide and 1.5 million fewer students attending them in 2013. The most recent data indicates an acceleration in this improvement. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of low-graduation-rate high schools declined by more than 200.
  • Low-income students are graduating at a rate 15 percentage points behind their more affluent peers.
  • Since 2006, graduation rates for students of color have significantly improved, with a 15-percentage point gain for Hispanic/Latino students, and a 9-percentage point gain for African American students.
  • Despite improvements, unacceptably low levels of minority, low-income, English Language Learners, and special education students are graduating from high school.

Read the recent The Advocate op-ed about the high school graduation rate in East Baton Rouge.



City Year Improves Academic Outcomes in High-Poverty Schools, Study Finds 


High-poverty elementary, middle, and high schools in urban neighborhoods are more likely to improve on state student assessments in English and math if they partner with City Year AmeriCorps members for academic and social-emotional skill supports, according to a newly released third-party study.


Schools that work with Diplomas Now partner organization City Year were two-to-three times more likely to improve school-wide proficiency rates in English Language Arts and math than schools with similar demographic and performance profiles that do not have the added benefit of City Year AmeriCorps members. Additionally, students in schools that partner with City Year gain approximately one month of additional learning in English Language Arts and math compared to demographically similar students in other schools not partnering with City Year.


This study conducted by Policy Studies Associates Inc. (PSA) of Washington, D.C., is the first national third-party research to examine the impact of City Year's "Whole School Whole Child" (WSWC) model on the performance of entire schools. In conducting the new research, PSA studied more than 600 similar schools in high-poverty urban settings in 22 cities, of which 150 had partnered with City Year and 460 had not.  PSA researchers retrieved publicly available state assessment results for math and English Language Arts for each school.  

"This study underscores how City Year's whole school approach, rooted in strong partnerships with teachers and principals, can improve student achievement across an entire school," said Jim Balfanz, City Year President.  "As a learning organization, City Year is always seeking new information that informs our work and enables us to better serve students, families, educators, and communities."

Read the full study here


Read the Ed Week story.



Diplomas Now Summer Institute: See You in Tulsa! 


Diplomas Now teams from across the country will gather at the Diplomas Now Summer Institute July 7th and 8th in Tulsa for the annual conference that promotes dialogue, learning, and exploration of topics critical to schools, teams, and individuals dedicated to ensuring success at all Diplomas Now sites.

For DNSI 2015, our overall conference theme -- and a specific national network session for all participants -- is dedicated to the maturation of our partnerships by exploring how we build a conversation in Diplomas Now schools. It's about moving from a powerful model into a professional culture that generates deeper understanding and impact for students. We will explore how this national conversation about cultures in schools can bring our Diplomas Now partnerships to the next level.

In addition to addressing this theme in the plenary and the all-inclusive national network session, DNSI 2015 will feature veteran staff and school partners sharing what works best for students. Participants will choose from sessions, developed and presented by field staff, about the various experiences of Diplomas Now practitioners. The sessions will connect participants through practical, active engagement and problem-solving. The sessions will be offered around four content strands:

  • Digging Deeper: Problem Solving Together
  • Good to Great: Improving Existing Model
  • Effective Use of Data
  • Interventions: What, Why and How

Nominate Your Colleagues for a Best of Diplomas Now Award! 


There's still time to nominate your colleagues for a Best of Diplomas Now Award! The awards recognize schools, principals, site teams, school transformation facilitators, City Year program managers, and Communities In Schools site coordinators for providing the best of the Diplomas Now model. Nominations can be made by anyone at a Diplomas Now Site/City or members of the local executive team. You can submit more than one nomination for different categories.


Nominations will close at 11:59 p.m. on Friday,

June 12. The Diplomas Now Implementation Support Team will review the nominations and select this year's recipients. Winners will be announced at the 2015 DNSI on July 8 in Tulsa.


Nomination forms are here.

Separate tracks on Day 2 will also be offered for members of Diplomas Now executive city teams and for investors. 

A special shout-out to Jessica Herman, who has been a deputy director of Diplomas Now and very instrumental in planning this and past summer institutes. Jessica will be leaving Diplomas Now to work at City Year-Kansas City. We wish you all the best, Jessica, and thanks for all you have done to make Diplomas Now such a success.

And at DNSI, as always, we'll celebrate the amazing wins we are seeing all over our network. See you in Tulsa!




Accomplishments at Diplomas Now Schools 


Denny Middle School Wins State Achievement Award


Congratulations to Diplomas Now partner school David T. Denny International Middle School in Seattle for winning the 2014 Washington Achievement Award for Math Growth! The Washington state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) selects award winners using the State Board of Education Revised Achievement Index. Awards are based on statewide assessment data for the previous three years. The OSPI grants these awards in an attempt to highlight best practices in schools that foster student success.  

Homestead High Principal Named Principal of the Year


Homestead Senior High, a Diplomas Now school in Miami, is now home to the Miami-Dade County Public Schools' Principal of the Year.


When Guillermo Muñoz assumed his position as the principal of Homestead Senior High two years ago, he found a school with low morale. To remedy this issue, he promised to host more activities, lined the hallways with photos of high-achieving students, and made rival cliques read to local elementary school kids together. Muñoz also went skydiving in an attempt to motivate students and encourage them to face their fears.


His initiatives soon attracted the attention of district officials, earning him the Miami-Dade County Public Schools' Principal of the Year award. This distinction comes a year after Florida State University and the non-profit Florida Tax Watch recognized him as one of the five best principals in the state.


Keep up the great work!

Clippert Academy Students Visit Career and Technical Center


One hundred and thirty-seven 8th grade students at Diplomas Now partner school Clippert Academy in Detroit visited the A. Philip Randolph Career and Technical Center this May. Students learned about opportunities to earn certifications in areas, including computer-aided design, plumbing, and agricultural science. Funded by a PepsiCo Foundation grant, this field trip exposed students to the opportunity to become certified in a trade at the technical center during high school while highlighting trades as a viable career option for students more generally. One student, Andrea, said: "It would be great to get one of those paid summer internships. I could learn a trade and still go to college after high school."

Former Aki Kurose Student Finds Voice through Community Action 


As a middle school student, 16-year-old Alrick Hollingsworth attended Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle, a Diplomas Now partner school. The death of Charles Chappelle, a beloved homeless man who had lived behind Hollingsworth's high school for 15 years, weighed heavily on the current high school junior.


When World Vision and the Washington State Legislative Youth Advisory Council invited Hollingsworth and dozens of other students to participate in the annual Legislative Youth Action Day at the state Capitol, he used this opportunity to advocate on behalf of Seattle's increasing homeless population. Not only did Hollingsworth speak directly to Washington Governor Jay Inslee about the issue, but he also plans to plant 15 trees throughout the community in Chappelle's honor.


As a member of the World Vision Youth Empowerment Network, Hollingsworth will receive eight months of training in which he will develop a deeper understanding of key community issues, learn to effectively present ideas to public officials, and ultimately become a more competent, confident advocate.


Equipped with these skills, Hollingsworth will be better prepared to improve the lives of numerous residents living on the streets of Seattle.


Read the story about him!



Diplomas Now in the News!



Bob Balfanz presses for reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act in this op-ed in The Hill


The CBS affiliate in Miami profiled Booker T. Washington graduating senior Moises Arzu in this story

The South Florida Times also told Moises Arzu's turnaround story

The NBC Boston affiliate highlighted how Diplomas Now put a local high school and senior Stevaughn on the path to success in this Urban Update segment.

The Root celebrates the academic achievement of Stevaughn & Moises thanks to Diplomas Now and Communities In Schools. Read their stories

The Boston Globe details how local high school senior Stevaughn overcame adversity to graduate with help from us in this article





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