SAM Receives Significant Project Funding - Media Release

Spartanburg Receives Project Funds through $20 Million Grant Program by National Nonprofit StriveTogether

The Spartanburg Academic Movement is one of nine winning initiatives that will tackle systems changes needed to improve outcomes for children across Spartanburg County.

 Spartanburg, SC — The Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) has been awarded one of nine Cradle to Career Community Challenge Opportunity Fund grants from StriveTogether, a national nonprofit working to bring communities together around data to make decisions and improve results for kids.  Of StriveTogether’s 70 partnerships nationwide, SAM is one of nine members recognized for having changed local systems to benefit children.

This targeted investment funds the start-up of SAM’s Continuous Improvement Institute, a long-term project to embed continuous improvement practices in schools and educational non-profits across Spartanburg County. SAM is already working closely with the County’s seven school districts on this agenda, having launched a pilot continuous improvement training and coaching initiative within four county schools where poverty rates are the highest. 

“Start-up funding for the CI Institute will allow us to develop skills in defining, measuring, and acting quickly to introduce interventions to address challenges to learning; and having acted, to control, repeat, and refine the intervention cycle in seeking continuous improvement. CI practices, common in corporate and health care sectors, will enable practitioners in schools and non-profit sectors to better align interventions with students’ needs.” SAM Executive Director John Stockwell said. 

“With so many at work to improve opportunities for children in Spartanburg County, aligning continuous improvement practices with the efforts underway will give our partners the tools they need to know what’s working, and where to shift or expand their efforts for the greatest impact,” Beth Thompson, SAM’s Director of Continuous Improvement said. “This isn’t about changing what an organization offers; rather, it’s about ensuring that what an organization does has the greatest impact it can possibly have on our shared goals.” 

This Cradle to Career Community Challenge grant will provide support over a three-year period with increasing match requirements in order to build and expand County-wide local sustainability for the project. Grant funds will be used to hire and train project-specific staff and support the cost of launching continuous improvement training within Spartanburg County.

“Using the common language of data, we can create better, more equitable systems to improve outcomes for major milestones in every child’s life, StriveTogether President and CEO Jennifer Blatz said. “I’m excited Spartanburg Academic Movement will expand training in continuous improvement practices for local schools and nonprofits working to support children in the community.  Thorough efforts like the one in Spartanburg County, our Cradle to Career Community Challenge will enhance and expand the real, lasting results underway across our 70 communities.”

StriveTogether’s Cradle to Career Community Challenge will invest more than $20 million over the next three years, funding projects across the country that aim to shift public policy and engage the systems needed to help students progress from kindergarten to postsecondary completion and a career. The Community Challenge seeks to create local change to enable economic mobility. The program’s goal is to strengthen and align the many systems, such as education, employment, health and housing, that shape opportunity for children and families in America.

Of the nine Opportunity Fund grant recipients, Spartanburg’s award was the only one made to a StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network member in the southeast.  Eight additional Opportunity Fund grants also have been awarded to network members in Central Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio and Northern Kentucky; Dallas County, Texas; Dayton/Montgomery County, Ohio; Tacoma, Washington; Portland/Multnoma County, Oregon; Racine County, Wisconsin; and Memphis/Shelby County, Tennessee.


Partner Highlight: The Spartanburg Herald Journal

Covering the challenge, highlighting success

Covering the challenge, highlighting success

UPDATED 3.11.19

The Spartanburg Academic Movement has received tremendous support from the Spartanburg Herald Journal as a media partner in the work to build educational success across Spartanburg County, SC. After SAM’s executive director, Dr. John Stockwell, shared the work of SAM, its partners, and specific project areas with Herald Journal executive editor Michael Smith, the Herald Journal responded by launching an in-depth coverage initiative to increase community  understanding of the challenges and responses to key issues surrounding student success.

Topics have been guided by the early factor analysis for The Four Schools Project an area of SAM work that identifies and addresses the unique factors influencing educational success for children living in poverty. The article series launch in February 2018 was paired with a FB Live interview with Stockwell about The Four Schools Project.

The need for early childhood education, support for transient children, strategies for helping children who bring ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) with them into the classroom,  and most recently, the challenges faced by English language learners are key topics covered in the series. Each article has been deeply researched with related stories published simultaneously highlighting the efforts of community educators and bright spots in the lives of children facing some of these challenges. As The Four Schools Project work continues, the Herald Journal remains committed to following the stories as they unfold; as the Spartanburg community as a whole digs more deeply into the key factors influencing its children, and as SAM leads an effort to unite partners from all sectors in efforts to surround these challenges with solutions.

The first lead reporter on this project was Zach Fox. Reporter Adam Orr, took over the coverage project. The Herald Journal also broadcast a ‘behind the reporting’ perspective interview with Orr, bringing additional insights into the needs The Four Schools Project. We are deeply thankful to have the Herald Journal fully committed to raising awareness about the challenges facing our children and how our educators are working to meet their needs. 

SAM’s initial efforts to turn Summer Slide into Summer Climb with a pilot for early intervention were covered in multiple stories in the summer of 2017.  The next installment of the Herald Journal’s coverage is expected later this summer with follow-up on the Summer Climb initiatives. 

Updated (7/31/18) List of Articles with links:

2019 Coverage:

Continuous Improvement Melds Business World with Classroom

Series Launch: 2/24/2018

Early Childhood Education Critical for Students In Poverty

Kenesah Hardy Educator Profile

Inspired 8-year-old

Transience: 3/26/2018

Four Schools Project Dealing With Student Transience  

Lindsay Layton Educator Profile

5th Grader Dreaming Big

ACES:  5/20/18

Schools Become Front Line

English Language Learners: 6/17/18

Hurdles Faced by English Language Learners

Student Beats Odds

Gow Lo Educator Profile

Turning Summer Slide into Summer Climb: 7/29/18

Summer Slide to Climb

Mitu Bagchi Educator Profile 

Student Profile - Journey to Post-Secondary

Summer Climb/Summer Learning (2017 Coverage)

Reading Programs Seek to Prevent Summer Slide

Reading Program Mixes Pups and Paperbacks

Turning the Page this Summer

Summer Education

 QUALITY COUNTS Expansion in Spartanburg County 1/31/18

Spartanburg reaches "Proof Point"

As these District 3 students share success, so can all in Spartanburg County!

As these District 3 students share success, so can all in Spartanburg County!

Spartanburg COUNTY has been named a "Systems Change" and “Proof Point” community thanks to the work of SAM, the county’s seven school districts and our nonprofit and business partners across Spartanburg County.

Proof point is highest designation a partnership can receive within the national StriveTogether Cradle to Career network.  

Proof point is highest designation a partnership can receive within the national StriveTogether Cradle to Career network.  

“Our designations as 'Systems Change' and 'Proof Point' is of great importance. It not only acknowledges the work of SAM, it recognizes the progress of our entire county toward shared goals of improved academic achievement for young people. This has been accomplished with the deep dedication of our public schools and multiple community partners. Reaching “Systems Change” and “Proof Point” designation does not mean the work is finished. Quite the contrary. It means that we have built the foundation for the necessary changes to happen and that we are beginning to see proof of that. Maintaining proof point designation from year to year will require our sharpened focus on the economic mobility of all our students and families across boundaries of region, race, and income. This focus is deeply embedded across Spartanburg County and within SAM’s ongoing efforts.” - Dr. John Stockwell, SAM’s Executive Director. 

SAM joins only seven other partnerships having reached these milestone, including: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (StrivePartnership); Dallas County, Texas (The Commit Partnership); Dayton/Montgomery County, Ohio (Learn to Earn Dayton); Portland/Multnomah County, Ore. (All Hands Raised); Racine County, Wis. (Higher Expectations for Racine County); Shelby County, Tenn. (Seeding Success); and Tacoma, Wash. (Graduate Tacoma)

“Since joining the StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network in 2013, Spartanburg Academic Movement has been a champion for supporting the success of every child in Spartanburg County,” StriveTogether President and CEO Jennifer Blatz said. “I’m excited to see better outcomes for students through the partnership’s commitment, collaboration and hard work. The Network’s approach to improving education is showing clear results in communities across the country, and Spartanburg County is part of that success story.”

“Systems Change” and “Proof Point” designations came after StriveTogether evaluators visited Spartanburg on May 21-23 of this year, meeting with more than a dozen community leaders representing a cross-section of business, nonprofit, and education sectors to assess the impact of SAM’s work across Spartanburg County. 

Systems Change is the Qualitative designation indicating that systems within a community have made positive change across multiple sectors impacting education as a result of an organization's work within the community.

Systems Change is the Qualitative designation indicating that systems within a community have made positive change across multiple sectors impacting education as a result of an organization's work within the community.

To date, the majority of SAM’s work has been in the kindergarten readiness and early grades reading outcome areas and building the data stream to support the work from birth through post-secondary completion. SAM is increasing efforts in college and career ready high school graduation, and post-secondary targets for enrollment, persistence, and completion. Action in the area of middle grades math will begin soon.  



Recently, Steve Ballmer, co-founder of the Ballmer Group, former Microsoft CEO, and chairman of the LA Clippers came to Spartanburg to learn more about the work of SAM. Here is a clip of his comments as SAM’s report, Chapter 3: Systems Change, was released to the public.

Learn more about how you can find your fit with SAM!


Spartanburg Selected for National Early Childhood Impact Intiative



Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) Selected for Impact and Improvement Network Focused on Child Development from Birth to 3 along with select group of 5 organizations across the U.S.

L-R (top):  Keisha Gray, Mary Black Foundation Early Childhood Program Specialist; Dr. Nur Tanyel, Director of Early Childhood and Family Studies Program, USC Upstate; Barbara Manoski, Quality Counts Director, Spartanburg County First Steps  (bottom) Lisa Soenen, Program Coordinator for Help Me Grow, Greenville Health System, Child Advocacy; Ida Thompson, Program Manager, Spartanburg Academic Movement

L-R (top):  Keisha Gray, Mary Black Foundation Early Childhood Program Specialist; Dr. Nur Tanyel, Director of Early Childhood and Family Studies Program, USC Upstate; Barbara Manoski, Quality Counts Director, Spartanburg County First Steps

(bottom) Lisa Soenen, Program Coordinator for Help Me Grow, Greenville Health System, Child Advocacy; Ida Thompson, Program Manager, Spartanburg Academic Movement


Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) joins five other communities selected from across the country to participate in the Prenatal to Age 3 Impact and Improvement Network being led by StriveTogether, a national nonprofit working to improve education for every child. Launched in partnership with the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ), this special initiative will improve kindergarten readiness by focusing on child development from birth to age 3.

"SAM is honored to be selected among this highly competitive national field to participate in the "Prenatal to 3 Impact and Improvement Network."  Research makes clear that brain development leading to kindergarten readiness has begun at birth.  SAM's selection for Network inclusion will position us to provide developmental screenings for all pre-K children county-wide, thus increasing the probability that those exhibiting developmental delays can be connected with early intervention services.  Engaging with the Pritzker Institute for Children, the National Institute for Child Health Quality, and StriveTogether will push us closer to our county-wide goal of ensuring that all children arrive at kindergarten ready to succeed," said Dr. John Stockwell, SAM's Executive Director. 

Kindergarten readiness is one of the seven key educational outcomes tracked by StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network communities. The StriveTogether Prenatal to Age 3 Impact and Improvement Network will increase the number of children meeting critical early milestones by promoting targeted, evidence-based strategies and building the capacity of local leaders and practitioners.

Over 16 months, this network will help the six communities improve kindergarten readiness and accelerate progress for local students through an approach that combines leadership development, continuous improvement tools, peer-to-peer learning, design thinking and data use training. Participating communities include Albuquerque, New Mexico (Mission: Graduate); Memphis, Tenn. (Seeding Success); Norwalk, Conn. (Norwalk Acts); Salt Lake City, Utah (Promise Partnerships of Salt Lake); and Tucson, Ariz. (Cradle to Career Partnership).

“The first few years of a child’s life are critical in determining future success,” StriveTogether CEO and President Jennifer Blatz said. “It’s our obligation as Americans to provide every child with opportunity through a quality education, but each year an estimated 3 million children in the U.S. are at risk of being woefully unprepared for kindergarten. By partnering with NICHQ, we will help to drive policies and investments in core services proven to improve educational, economic, health and social outcomes for children and families.”

“Improving the health and development of infants and toddlers has long-term benefits for children, families and our society. It also sets the stage for the way kids learn throughout their lives,” said Dr. Jill Sells, clinical director of Early Childhood Initiatives at NICHQ and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We are thrilled to partner with StriveTogether and these six communities, whose focus on this age group makes them pioneers in testing strategies for kindergarten readiness.”

The Prenatal to Age 3 Impact and Improvement Network is part of an effort with three other organizations — the National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and the Center for the Study of Social Policy — to improve the lives of infants, toddlers and families. The partner organizations will equip communities with tools and resources to build strong early childhood systems and share best practices with other cities, counties and states. This critical work is being funded by the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, a project of the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation.

This is StriveTogether’s third national Impact and Improvement Network. The StriveTogether Postsecondary Enrollment Impact and Improvement Network boosted completions for federal student aid applications through a data-driven, collaborative model derived from the health care field. Participants supported nearly 31,000 students to complete applications in 2015-16. Five of the six communities increased their yearly completion rates at the school level, four increased district-level completions and three tallied school-level gains of 10 percent or more.


StriveTogether leads a national movement of nearly 70 communities to get better results in every child’s life. We coach and connect partners across the country to close gaps by using local data, especially for children of color and low-income children. Communities using our proven approach have seen measurable gains in kindergarten readiness, academic achievement and postsecondary success. The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network reaches 10.4 million students, involves 10,800 organizations and has partners in 30 states and Washington, D.C.

The National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ) is a mission-driven nonprofit dedicated to driving sustainable improvements in the complex issues facing children’s health. We provide deep expertise in developing the pathways and partnerships for catalyzing change to achieve better outcomes for children and families. Learn more at