Call out your numbers - The power of measurement

Together, we can change this data story…

Together, we can change this data story…

“Call out your numbers,” directed Michael McAfee, President and CEO of Policy Link. As leader of a national research and action institute striving to improve racial and economic equity, his words resonate deeply with the Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM). SAM works to advance economic mobility, anchored in academic achievement… county-wide… cradle to career.  

“When SAM first formed in 2013, we knew we could not change what we did not measure. Spartanburg needed its numbers. As our work produces rich data, our task is sharing those data, building collective impact efforts, and improving outcomes for our community” says SAM Executive Director, Dr. John Stockwell.

McAfee’s challenge also meant “dig deeper“ and “be public.” SAM does just that.  Most recently, sharing never before seen data surrounding the post-secondary pathways Spartanburg County students have followed.

SAM commissioned a study from the National Student Clearinghouse, reports from which are providing vital data regarding post-secondary enrollment, persistence, and completion for Spartanburg County graduates dating back to the graduating class of 2013.  

Of Spartanburg County’s high school graduates enrolling in some form of post-secondary study, almost 80% are persisting from their freshman to sophomore years.  National data links persistence with high completion rates.

“This is a strong indication that something positive is happening in our schools. For students starting the post-secondary journey, they are doing so equipped to keep moving forward,” said Stockwell.

The study also shows us where Spartanburg County graduates are enrolling. The top 3 schools for post-secondary enrollees is another bright spot. Spartanburg Community College, USC Upstate, and Spartanburg Methodist College have garnered the largest number of the County’s high school graduates. SAM’s existing partnership with these schools and a wide network of partners in local support agencies can be readily engaged in action to address achievement disparities demonstrated by the data.

Where students have indicated an intent to go on to college at a rate of about 80% county-wide, the reality is that only 62% are actually enrolling. That difference, known as “Summer Melt,” serves as a call to action.  County-wide melt in 2013 was at 8.5% while melt in 2017 was 17%. Translating percentages into lives impacted is the deeper story. That means 239 students in 2013, 519 students in 2017, and over the five year study period, 1,922 students actually told someone they intended to go to college...but did not actually enroll.

Reasons for the melt vary, another area of SAM research. However, as analysis continues, school leaders both in high schools and colleges are responding to the data, brainstorming how to change the story for 2019 high school grads who have yet to turn their tassels.

As Director of College and Career Readiness at SAM, Meghan Smith, is leading the work to respond to these new data. She and Beth Thompson, SAM’s Director of Continuous Improvement, have been presenting reports to school district leaders, high school principals and counselors across the County.  

“Spartanburg’s education leaders are committed to using this information to improve enrollment and reduce melt,” said Smith. “These are numbers they’ve never had access to before. It’s been inspiring to see their passion for action as we’ve presented the data.”

Efforts to share data with faith leaders and new community partners is being led by Savannah Ray, SAM’s Director of Educational Engagement and Partnerships. The response has been positive.

“We know that school leaders are not solely responsible for taking action. Now that we have these reports, we continue to seek opportunities to share these vital data with all willing to plan action to make a difference,” Ray explained.

SAM is driven by numbers because each data point represents an individual student. SAM engages its partners to advance academic achievement and reduce disparity gaps. Sharing new data, the process of “calling out our numbers,” provides direction for our next steps -  and becomes a county-wide call to action.

For more information or to schedule a review of the National Student Clearinghouse data, please contact Meghan Smith at 864-573-5804 ext. 136  or email

Student Art Competition - Deadline May 10


High School Seniors and College Students - you could win one of ten, $1000 scholarships and have your artwork displayed in the offices of the national nonprofit STRIVETOGETHER.

GOAL:  A work of art inspired by“Trees” or “The Eyes of Your Enemy” by Christian Paige


o   Watch “Trees” at this link

o   Read the text of “Trees” at this link

o   Watch “The Eyes of Your Enemy” at this link

o   Read the text of “The Eyes of Your Enemy” at this link

CREATE: An original piece of art responding to either “Trees” or “The Eyes of Your Enemy”

A qualified judging panel will select up to ten (10) submitted works of art based on the following criteria:

 Creativity and aesthetics

 Ability to convey your interpretation of one of the spoken word poems

 The work’s ability to inspire change in communities to ensure the success of every child

SUBMIT: Scholarship application form with applicant information

o  A brief (3 min or less) video explaining the work of art: It does not need to be professionally recorded; a video from a phone, tablet or camera will suffice. The video should explain:

a. What are some themes you personally connect to when watching Christian’s spoken poem?

b. How did you express that in your work of art?

o    2‑5 photos of the work of art

o A two-part essay covering these two questions:

Question 1: What are your career goals? What are your current educational plans and how will they help you achieve your career aspirations? (500 words or fewer)

Question 2: What are some themes you personally connect to in your selected spoken word poem, “Trees” or “The Eyes of your Enemy”? How did you express that in your work of art?

o  Proof of intent to attend or current enrollment in a postsecondary institution for fall 2019 (e.g., a letter of acceptance from such postsecondary institution): Examples include a college acceptance letter, current postsecondary transcript showing expected graduation date or a postsecondary coursework schedule.

o A signature page (scanned separately)


Eligibility :** Spartanburg County students have already met qualification 2b because Spartanburg, SC is a StriveTogether community.

To be eligible to submit a work of art for the chance to receive a scholarship, students must:

1. Be a U.S. resident.

2. a) Be a current senior at a Qualifying High School or be enrolled as an undergraduate at a postsecondary institution (such as a university, college or community college) for classes in fall 2019. b)** That high school or postsecondary institution must be in a community where there is currently a StriveTogether partnership (see Application Form for a list of eligible communities).

3. Be willing to permanently donate their work of art to StriveTogether to be displayed in one of its offices.

4. Be willing to be featured in StriveTogether and local partnership communications.

5. Be willing to give a brief post-winning interview with the StriveTogether communications team for additional information.

Summer Shakedown Part 1: Quality Improvements for Youth Programs

Raising the Bar – Together

Ensuring high quality programs for youth is being addressed by the Mary Black Foundation and the newly formed Out-Of-School-Time-Collaborative. - photo courtesy of Mary Black Foundation

Ensuring high quality programs for youth is being addressed by the Mary Black Foundation and the newly formed Out-Of-School-Time-Collaborative. - photo courtesy of Mary Black Foundation

“Summer Shakedown” is an effort of the Mary Black Foundation to expand access to quality summer programs. In its third year, a quality bar that had been put in place with partners in the Foundation’s “Connect” adolescent health initiative has risen– with many hands joining the effort.  This is one more sign that Spartanburg County is willing to do whatever it takes to nurture the success of its youth.

Shakedown participants, providers of summer programs designed for youth, must now be formally trained through USC Upstate’s Child Protection Training Center before being eligible for the Shakedown website listing, free marketing support, and scholarship funds from a pool of over $16,000 made available by the Mary Black Foundation’s Connect initiative, funded by the Office of Adolescent Health. 

“We are looking for organizations and programs that say “Yes, I want to be trauma informed,” and “Yes, I want to participate in the training,” explained Savannah Ray, Director of Education and Outreach for the Spartanburg Academic Movement.

“The training offered by the Child Protection Training Center builds the responsiveness providers need address situations they may never have known existed, such as the social impact of adverse childhood experiences (also known as ACES).  By requiring this to be a part of the process for inclusion in the Summer Shakedown, we are transforming the ways systems across our County are engaged in serving youth,” added Ray.

Of the 40 plus attendees at an informational meeting held at the Spartanburg County Headquarters Library in February, some who would be first-time Shakedown participants, none batted an eye at the training requirement. In fact, before leaving the meeting, more than 30 had committed to participate. ”Setting this high standard for those providing services to youth is essential to improving outcomes for them,” explained Ray.

Out-of-School-Time Collaborative

Positive youth engagement is an essential support for Spartanburg County’s youth. - photo, Mary Black Foundation

Positive youth engagement is an essential support for Spartanburg County’s youth. - photo, Mary Black Foundation

“This training initiative is also part of a broader effort to strengthen systems that support youth development year-round,” Ray explained during the meeting, announcing that an Out-of-School-Time Collaborative has been launched recently by the Mary Black Foundation and SAM to create the infrastructure needed to improve access to and quality measures programs serving youth during the more than 5000 hours of “free time” they  have away from school each year, including summer programs.

Ray’s personal journey served as an example for the value of out-of-school-time activities. Being able to list cheerleading on her resume had been a key to getting an early professional internship.  “What that activity said I could do made an impact and broadened the scope of the interview.”

“Education comes in many forms.  It is our responsibility, as a community, to ensure that our youth have access to quality programs that can meet their needs,” she added.

Many summer program providers also serve youth year-round, merging the interests of the new collaborative, the Shakedown, and Connect.

Connect: Meeting the needs of older youth

“Our youth are asking for opportunities to explore, to do things they’d never done before,” explained Polly Edwards-Padgett, Adolescent Health Program Director for the Mary Black Foundation.

Connect develops community initiatives directly from its youth listening campaigns and Community Advisory Board. Connect partners share a commitment to increasing support to “prevent disparities among teens and young adults by increasing access to services and supports that result in holistically healthier individuals.”

 “Connect does not provide services to youth. Our job is to ensure youth serving agencies have the capacity and resources needed to be successful in improving youth outcomes and youth have the services, supports and opportunities needed to thrive,” explained Padgett.   

Meeting “adolescent friendly” guidelines is a best practice standard for Connect partners. Edwards-Padgett extends screening further, directly asking potential partners, “Are you trauma informed?” before listing any on the Connect website or referral system. 

Ensuring that organizations offering programs to youth have the knowledge to ensure quality is not just about offering funding or asking pointed questions.  It’s about ensuring that training, support materials and technical assistance are available to those wishing to be a part of the Connect network. There is even a time-window within which a partner agency must meet training qualifications. The standard for Connect inclusion has always been high.

Funding, program quality, and organizational capacity can be barriers to connecting youth to positively impactful experiences. Through Connect, the Mary Black Foundation is removing those barriers while also closing the opportunity gap for families who cannot afford out-of-school-time programs that support learning.

In the previous two years of “Shakedown,” nearly 200 scholarships were offered. “We are expecting to provide around 100 scholarships to the programs committed to meeting these high standards for this summer,” said Edwards-Padgett. Previous Shakedown participants have tapped into a wide array of interest areas from STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Music) themes to sports, outdoor/nature, academic, and leadership development and have summer activity sites throughout the county.  

Year 3 Changes

 “For this third year of the Shakedown, we are looking for organizations and programs that say “Yes, I want to be trauma informed,” and “Yes, I want to participate in the training,” explained Ray.

Another first for the 2019 “Summer Shakedown” is a literacy building effort sponsored by the Spartanburg County Library.  Susan Myers, Director of Teen Services, shared that all youth participating in activities supported through the “Shakedown” will receive a free book.

“We know that having a personal library is important for encouraging teens to read – to maintain and build their literacy skills through books written with their unique interests in mind.  We are thrilled to be partnering with this effort to add personal literacy to summer programs committed to the highest level of quality for the youth they serve,” Myers said.

Funding Commitment

Covering the cost of training is part of the Mary Black Foundation’s service to community agencies willing to raise the quality bar for their programs.  On Friday, April 26, 2019, those registered will cover Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s), Recognizing Signs of Abuse, Handling Disclosures, Mandated Reporting, Building Resiliency, and more. A second training date, Wednesday, May 8, 2019 has been added to accommodate additional participants.

Improved quality through free training, scholarships to increase access, and adding literacy benefits for summer programs are building Spartanburg county through our youth. 

“This is another win-win for Spartanburg,” said Edwards-Padgett.

To learn more about partnering with Connect for the Summer Shakedown email Savannah Ray or Meghan Smith or call 864-573-5804.