The SAM team was recently treated to a pre-opening tour of the Franklin School. The phrase “Equity from the Start,” the tagline from the Early Development Instrument used by the Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM), was echoing throughout the experience.
“We need a picture of today. In in a few years, we’re going to want to look back and say this is the day it happened.”
Those were the words of a local educator willing to spend extra hours in training in the hope that the missing link in her years of effort to impact students had just been found. She said that in July, during SAM’s first Continuous Improvement training sessions. It was said again in September as a second group of educators received their first training.
Why? They had just received permission to fail … forward.
Failure = Success
The equation of failure=success was never taught in school, and certainly not in professional educator training. But now it will be. In fact, it will be the muscle behind developing a wave of successes. Cheryl Broadnax, senior director for district improvement with StriveTogether and consultant Melissa McCoy came to Spartanburg to train educators in the hidden power in the muscle of failure. Breaking loose from the emotional/judgmental stigma attached to failure releases that power, they explained. When teachers, principals, and superintendents sit in the same room and acknowledge that failure is acceptable, something changes. That’s exactly what happened around the SAM table during the Continuous Improvement training sessions held July 30-31. It happened again September 5-6, 2018.
“This unleashes the power of professional educators. We can track what’s working and what isn’t and share that in a way that makes a difference on a very practical level,” said Broadnax. She experienced this first hand as she worked to embed continuous improvement science across the Cincinnati school district where she served as assistant superintendent.
“This makes the invisible, visible,” explains. Mendy Mossbrook, Director of SAM’s developing Continuous Improvement Institute as she describes the process. “Instead of hiding development opportunities, we use the ‘current state’ to set goals and focus on improvement. It involves making small changes, continuously, with the expectation that these small changes add up to a significant difference. This is a very different approach than is familiar to many. The typical approach for change-making is to make a big goal or process shift that creates frustration and burnout when it is not obtained. This new approach builds toward success, not expecting it to be instantaneous, but sustained – the key to long-term impact,” Mossbrook explained.
SAM’s first summer training sessions involved newly hired CI (Continuous Improvement) coaches and administrators from Spartanburg Districts 6 and 7 and launched SAM’s Continuous Improvement training. Over two days they worked to understand the process steps that would guide their work within schools participating in “The Four Schools” initiative. The effort targets work within the four county schools with the highest rates of poverty, a factor tied directly to currently low success rates for students within those schools. The CI work takes the process-driven analytical model common to business and industry and merges it with the intricate human/relational element that plays out in the teaching/learning dynamic.
“Teaching is a matter of heart. It’s about relationships,” said Russell Booker, District 7 Superintendent, who participated in the training.
So rather than looking at a low grade as a fly to be batted away while moving forward through curriculum calendar, hoping the next grade will be better, that grade is now the reminder a teacher to drop back into the relationship built with the student and have the student figure out what happened. That’s right, the student.
If Joey didn’t demonstrate he’d mastered the skill, what does Joey think happened? What does the teacher think happened? Together, cause is identified and a change in strategy, an intervention, is planned.
Broadnax calls the process “facilitating in the wild” due to the personalized nature of the work. It’s not just re-teaching a concept, it’s getting deeply into how each child is internalizing his or her own learning.
After an intervention to improve a weakness has been planned (P) and tried (D), the results are studied(S). Then the action is either abandoned, adopted, or adjusted (A) and the process repeats. Even if a new strategy works, the process doesn’t end. A single strategy may not work in all applications, or for all students, so an ongoing pattern of monitoring long-term improvement begins, and most importantly, continues. It is the ultimate process of becoming “the best at getting better,” which can apply to everything from learning vocabulary words to managing stressors that distract a student from a lesson.
By embedding PDSA and an acceptance of failure into the system in place, success starts emerging. As PDSA cycles continue, success is achieved with growth, not just an end goal assessment. Ultimately, small successes, based on identifying failures, build larger successes.
By the afternoon of September 6, 29 educators were ready to head back to their schools and classrooms to start their first PDSA cycles. CI Coaches will be following those teachers and guiding their progression, helping to fine-tune the process. CI Coaches will share their work with follow-up coaching in November when Broadnax and McCoy plan to return.
After participating in the July training, 100% of the participants said they will plan their next lesson differently as a result of what they’d learned and all 29 said they’d recommend the training to a peer.
Embedding this process is its own PDSA. Ensuring responsive support is key to establishing a practice in schools that can continue. SAM has offered both – through the Continuous Improvement training launched in the summer of 2018, an ongoing effort to impact schools and educational success across Spartanburg County.
“This is celebrating and embracing improvement – not a single test score.”
– Mendy Mossbrook, Director of SAM’s Continuous Improvement Institute
Spartanburg, SC — On Wednesday, October 10, at the 2018 national StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network Convening held in Seattle, Washington, Dr. Russell Booker, Superintendent of Spartanburg School District 7 and founding board member of The Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM), was installed as the newest member of the StriveTogether Board of Directors. StriveTogether is a national nonprofit working to bring communities together around data to make decisions and improve results for kids .
“I’m delighted that Dr. Russell Booker has joined our board,” StriveTogether Board Chair Nancy L. Zimpher said. “A longtime champion for children in Spartanburg County, Russell has a wealth of experience and knowledge that will strengthen our Network’s ability to get better results for children and youth in communities across the country.”
Booker joins the seven-member national board in leading the strategic focus of the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network reaching 10.5 million students and involving 10,800 organizations in collective impact partnerships across 30 states and Washington, D.C. To see the full board, visit: www.strivetogether.org/about/strivetogether-board
“Dr. Booker is a tremendous asset to Spartanburg. As a SAM Board member, he brings insight to the work from our most urban communities while adding perspective from multiple sectors due to his career-long dedication to strong community engagement. His insight has deeply impacted the success of the Spartanburg Academic Movement across our county,” said Jennifer Evins, SAM Board President.
Dr. Booker was introduced as the newest board member to the StriveTogether network at the opening reception of the annual Convening, held at the Seattle Art Museum.
Booker and the SAM Board have challenged Spartanburg County and the Spartanburg Academic Movement to find answers for children, to close disparities in educational achievement, and make the difference in bringing equity to the forefront of community action. He has been actively engaged in StriveTogether staff site meetings in Spartanburg and other cities.
“I have tremendous respect for StriveTogether and the Cradle to Career Network. Our network partners truly understand the value of collective impact – of getting key community leaders around one table to effect better results for all of our children. By deepening our relationships and sharing accountability we have a chance to make real and lasting changes to our education systems. That’s happening in Spartanburg thanks to SAM, and it’s incredibly meaningful work to be fueling the success of our children,” Booker said.
About Dr. Booker:
Russell Booker began his tenure as Superintendent of District Seven in 2010 after serving three years as superintendent in York School District One. With an unwavering conviction in the power of education, he believes our greatest hope for the future is to inspire and equip students for meaningful lives of leadership and service. Described as an inspirational leader and a champion for children, he has directed many progressive initiatives in District 7. Most notably, he led a total restructuring of the District, a complete digital immersion, and a comprehensive capital plan that has been described as bold and transformational.
He is a South Carolina Liberty Fellow (affiliate of the Aspen Global Leadership Network), a graduate of the Diversity Leaders Initiative, and the Spartanburg Regional Fellows program. He holds membership with Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., the Southside Lions Club, and the Downtown Rotary Club of Spartanburg.
Booker serves as vice-chair of the Liberty Fellowship Board and is a past Chair of the United Way of the Piedmont. He serves on the board of the Spartanburg Academic Movement, the Northside Advisory Board, and Wingate University.
In 2013, Dr. Booker received the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Humanitarian Award from the Urban League of the Upstate and in the summer of 2015 was inducted into the South Atlantic Conference (SAC) Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Alumnus. In 2015, Dr. Booker was named the South Carolina Superintendent of the Year by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators (SCASA) and was also named Superintendent of the Year by the South Carolina Athletic Administrators Association. He is a past-president of SCASA’s Superintendents’ Division.
Booker received his BS degree from Wingate University and his doctorate from the University of South Carolina. Russell and his wife Sheryl are the proud parents of two sons and reside in Spartanburg.
This video provides a brief review of Dr. Booker’s perspective on the Collective Impact, Continuous Improvement focus of SAM and the StriveTogether Cradle to Career network:
On Wednesday, August 8, SAM's Executive Director, John Stockwell received the Champions for Public Education Award during the Spartanburg District Two School Board meeting. It was presented by Travis Sloan, Region 14 Director for the South Carolina School Boards Association. Sloan also serves Vice Chair of the Spartanburg School District One School Board.
"The Spartanburg Academic Movement exists to make a difference for the children of Spartanburg County and is a true Champion for Education," Sloan said during his presentation. "On behalf of the South Carolina School Boards Association, I want you to know how much your efforts are appreciated. You are making a difference in the lives of Spartanburg county students and families!"
Recognition for a job well done and the quality of an effort in progress is indeed an honor. When an award is received that represents a county-wide effort, the privilege goes deeper than the shine reflecting, in this case, from a beautiful palmetto tree.
First, SAM was unanimously nominated for the award by the school boards of Spartanburg's seven different school districts. The significance of that level of support is extremely important to the SAM board and staff who believe strongly that the only way to make a difference is by working together for the children of our county and their futures. The partnership we have with the seven school districts is key to the impact of our work. We know that few counties have the strength of that level of commitment from the leaders of districts serving unique communities, willing to be collaborative and competitive in support of what's best for the children and families they serve. This award recognizes that commitment as well.
Secondly, that the award is one presented by the South Carolina Association of School Boards, representing 81 school boards across the state of South Carolina is incredible. SAM values the tremendous effort and dedication of school board trustees. The vast majority of those trustees are elected by their local communities. The support not just of our community, but the extended community of leaders across SC is extremely meaningful.
An honor such as this also helps to remind others that the work continues. Being a champion for public education is not a one-and-done act. It is a commitment for the long haul - a dedication we share with a strong and growing network in our State and beyond it's borders.
This network building was exemplified by a gathering of 22 educational and community leaders on Wednesday, August 29. They came to SAM to hear about how the long-term approach is being supported by the community as a whole and how it works. They heard about SAM's evolution and how the @StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network has driven impact efforts. They learned about the key learning stages we track through core indicators, the formation and tasks of Collaborative Action Networks (CANS), and the pre-birth through post-secondary data pipeline SAM engages across its work. They were also given an overview of where SAM stands now, with the launch of the Continuous Improvement Institute to strengthen educational and cross-sector interventions to improve student success.
When SAM's visitors came through the door, they were welcomed by the shining Palmetto Tree, then heard the story of how Champions for Public Education grow - from a deep commitment to making what works for children the focus of partners across the community, for the long-haul work that needs to be done - so evident in Spartanburg County.