Investing in Innovation (i3) Grant Winner


July 2015

Diplomas Now 2015 Summer Institute


Welcome to Tulsa!

More than 250 members of Diplomas Now teams and other stakeholders and funders gathered in Tulsa for the Diplomas Now Summer Institute as the mayor declared July 7 Diplomas Now Day. At the seventh annual summer convening, teams attended sessions to ensure success at all Diplomas Now schools, and awards were given for outstanding performance and innovative strategies to keep kids on track to graduation. Extending warm Oklahoma hospitality, Growing Together partnered with us to organize this year's summer institute. We would like to thank our founding investor, the PepsiCo Foundation, whose support helped underwrite the summer institute. And a special thanks to our local co-hosts at the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, and the Tulsa Area United Way.


Diplomas Now leader Bob Balfanz kicked off the two-day meeting with a powerful visual: He showed three photos of the Rose Bowl stadium side by side to demonstrate the 310,000 more dropouts who need to be converted to graduates before the nation can meet a 90 percent graduation rate. 


Summer institute participants take a selfie

Balfanz said that increasing poverty over the past decade has made it harder to be a child. He said the number of students distracted and stressed by out-of-school struggles is two-to-three times higher in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. This contributes to the 15 percentage point difference in graduation rates between students living in concentrated poverty and the overall national graduation rate. Diplomas Now, he noted, is a "powerful antidote" to these challenges.

Going forward, Balfanz seeks to both ensure that current Diplomas Now partner schools are continuously improving while expanding the network of schools. In addition, he wants to complete the extension of the Investing in Innovation (I3) study to demonstrate the impact of the Diplomas Now program on high school graduation and 9th-grade success.


Read coverage of Balfanz's remarks in the Tulsa World and Public Radio Tulsa.



Diplomas Now Director Doug Elmer highlighted some of the many accomplishments of the past school year:

  • South High School in Columbus saw a 14 percent increase in math proficiency on the Ohio Graduation Test.
  • Broadmoor and Capitol Middle Schools in East Baton Rouge were removed from Louisiana's Academically Unacceptable List.
  • Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles increased from a 50 percent 9th-grade promotion rate in 2012 to a more than 80 percent rate by this year.
  • John Ericsson Middle School came off of New York's priority list.
  • Booker T. Washington High School in Miami saw its attendance on-track rate increase from 39 percent to 75 percent this year.

This year's summer institute featured special sessions, including a lively reception at the Woody Guthrie Center for all attendees, a breakfast for local stakeholders, and workshops for funders. Thanks to the many funders who attended the summer institute, including representatives from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the George Kaiser Family Foundation of Tulsa, United Way Worldwide, the Walton Family Foundation, the William Penn Foundation, AT&T and numerous stakeholders from Columbus, Ohio, East Baton Rouge and San Antonio. 


Winners of the first PepsiCo Foundation Design Challenge also were announced - a competition among schools to help students better transition from eighth to ninth grade and to better support twelfth graders so they graduate ready for college and career success. Winning school teams with the best strategies received $3,000 each, and their tools will be shared throughout the Diplomas Now network.


Wilson Middle School

Middle school winner --Wilson Middle School in Philadelphia - devised a 10-week curriculum for eighth graders with initiatives such as "Future Focused Fridays" which taught students critical skills such as time management and gave them insights into the high school selection process. Wilson's plan also featured fun contests such as "Obtain a recommendation from an adult" and "Take a selfie in front of your future high school." Because the Wilson team embedded sustainability and documentation into the plan, other Diplomas Now middle schools can replicate it. This design helped ensure that every eighth grader at Wilson will attend a choice high school next year. 



Because of the numerous, strong submissions to this year's challenge, Diplomas Now selected two winners for the High School Design Challenge: Newtown High School in New York City and Burbank High School in San Antonio. Each of the winning entries included detailed plans with measurable results and engaged their own students as peer coaches to help ninth graders. 

Newtown High School


Burbank High School

The winning high school plans had several unique elements. One focused on creating a college-going school climate and paired junior mentors with freshmen. The other program emphasized a ninth through twelfth grade approach to completing important milestones in the higher education selection process while building the necessary skills to succeed in college. In both cases, the winning schools have improved student outcomes by increasing the number of students on track and prepared for college.

Congratulations to Wilson, Newtown, and Burbank!



Diplomas Now 2015 Awards 


Diplomas Now gave awards to exemplary staffers, school teams, principals, and schools: 

Communities In Schools Site Coordinator of the Year: Mariafe Arteaga of Homestead High School in Miami. Mariafe's dedication to helping students develop a positive self-image while helping them achieve their academic and career goals is seemingly limitless. In the past year, her School Clothes Closet initiative has helped clothe more than 500 students in need in an effort to help them stay in school. Her commitment to student success does not stop at her school's walls. Students often text or call her outside of school when they need words of encouragement or help resolving conflicts.



City Year Program Manager of the Year: Amanda Caccavo of Rhodes Middle School in San Antonio.  Amanda holds her team to the highest standards and has been described as disciplined and caring. She consistently encourages her City Year team to work closely with Diplomas Now coaches to more effectively integrate the entire team into the school community. As the chairperson of the first West Side Fair community engagement and wellness event, she helped more than 150 community members gain access to summer and health resources that they otherwise would not have had. 


Diplomas Now School Transformation Facilitator of the YearDerrick Moore of Booker T. Washington High School in Miami. Derrick knows each student by name. He and his team's innovative thinking resulted in the school meeting every one of its goals, including math proficiency and attendance. This year, his first group of freshmen graduated with many awards and recognitions. For instance, Derrick helped one student overcome disciplinary problems in ninth grade and receive the Florida Bright Futures college scholarship worth $100,000 by the time he graduated. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan applauded Derrick's and his team's efforts.



Diplomas Now Site Team of the YearHomestead High School in Miami. The Homestead High School team works cohesively to help students succeed. This team is impressive for many reasons, notably how effectively they support one another. For instance, they attend each other's activities - it's not a City Year or a Communities In Schools activity - but a Diplomas Now activity in which they all feel fully invested. The team's strong collaborative spirit helps them consistently improve the school's performance in areas such as behavior and English language arts.


Ryan Mattingly accepted the award on behalf of Viola Jackson.

Diplomas Now Middle School Principal of the Year

Viola Jackson of Capitol Middle School in East Baton RougeViola is dedicated to improving teaching, learning, and school climate. She expects hard work from students and staff alike, but she doesn't ask anyone to do something that she wouldn't do herself. Under her leadership, the school was removed from Louisiana's Academically Unacceptable List during the 2014-2015 school year. In addition, the district provided Capitol Middle School with half a million dollars to place two magnet programs there next year.




Diplomas Now High School Principal of the Year: Shelly Holman of Daniel Webster High School in Tulsa. Shelly is known for treating students, faculty, and staff like family. She participated in initial meetings to bring Diplomas Now to Tulsa and actively partners with her administrative team, the Diplomas Now team, and teachers to implement the model with fidelity. Her effective leadership helped Webster meet its behavior goals during the 2014-2015 school year. She has high expectations, and she fosters a collaborative and energizing school climate.



Diplomas Now Middle School of the Year: Rhodes Middle School in San Antonio Despite changes in principals, school transformation facilitators, and site coordinators, the Rhodes Middle School team has weathered the challenges and come out on top. All of its students who took the algebra state test passed at advanced level. The team hosted community events such as monthly coffees for parents and created a literacy group for students. Their hard work paid off with 100% of Rhodes eighth graders being admitted to choice high schools.



Diplomas Now High School of the Year: Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Miami. The "can do" attitude of the Booker T. Washington team is evidenced by the school's 36 percentage point increase in students who are on track in attendance and the 20 percentage point increase in students who are on track to graduate overall. The team's dedicated efforts have also resulted in a 9% (and counting) increase in the school's graduation rate since joining the Diplomas Now network four years ago.






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