Spartanburg Academic Movement Announces Commitment to Expand College Access at White House Event

On Thursday, December 4, representatives of the Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) joined President Obama, the First Lady, and Vice President Biden along with other national education leaders to announce new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college. 


Spartanburg participants included Dr. John Stockwell, Executive Director of the Spartanburg Academic Movement; Dr. Scott Mercer, Superintendent of School District 2; and Kathy Dunleavy, President of the Mary Black Foundation. 

The White House College Opportunity Day of Action helps to support the President’s commitment to partner with colleges and universities, business leaders, and nonprofits to support students across the country to help our nation reach its goal of leading the world in college attainment.  

The Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) is a partnership of County educators, and corporate and community leaders committed to elevating academic achievement, cradle to career, assuring that all of the County’s children are well-educated for life and work in the 21st century economy. The goal of the Movement is that every Spartanburg County young person will graduate high school ready to complete post-secondary certifications or degrees, equipping them for career readiness.

According to Stockwell, “the invitation to participate in this White House Summit is the product of Spartanburg County’s ability to collaborate in the interests of all its citizens, a collective impact approach to problem solving for which our county is increasingly well-known and nationally recognized.” 

Participants were asked to commit to new action in one of four areas: building networks of colleges around promoting completion, creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness, investing in high school counselors as part of the First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, and increasing the number of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The President announced new steps on how his Administration is helping to support these actions, including announcing $10 million to help promote college completion and a $30 million AmeriCorps program that will improve low-income students’ access to college. The event was the second College Opportunity Day of Action, and included a progress report on the commitments made at the first day of action on January 14, 2014.

Expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class.  Today, only 9 percent of those born in the lowest family income quartile attain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to 54 percent in the top quartile. In an effort to expand college access, the Obama Administration has increased Pell scholarships by $1,000 a year, created the new American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, limited student loan payments to 10 percent of income, and laid out an ambitious agenda to reduce college costs and promote innovation and competition.

The School Readiness Collaborative Action Network

SAM is an “all-in” partnership of County educators, corporations, non-profits, leaders, and individuals committed to increase the importance we place on academic achievement for every child, from cradle to career.

SAM tracks annual achievement data county-wide for each of several critical learning stages:  school readiness, 3rd and 8th grade reading and math, high school graduation, and post-secondary attainment.  In consultation with school districts and colleges, SAM sets sequential three-year targets for each stage, leading to significant generational achievement goals by 2030. 

Beyond data tracking, SAM assembles and coaches “collaborative action networks” in support of each of critical learning stage, sharing best practices, and supporting models of success.

The first of these networks is anchored by the Mary Black Foundation: “The School Readiness Collaborative Action Network.” Building on its early childhood development mission and its work with “Quality Counts,” the Foundation is joined by county-wide partners in tackling the challenge of determining how best to measure “school readiness.” The Network expects by next year to have in place a protocol for this assessment, enabling SAM and the Network to set rolling three-year improvement targets leading to a county-wide goal of “every child … school ready.”

SAM’s next task is to establish similar “collaborative action networks” in support of the other critical learning stages addressed in the SAM Preface document.

The Spartanburg Academic Movement will achieve its goals because of the commitment of the County’s school districts and its independent schools and colleges; and, as importantly, because of the commitment and advocacy of “all-in” partners such as the Mary Black Foundation.

On May 14th, we released a baseline document entitled SAM Preface.  It is available for download on our website, so please take a look!

SAM is a member of the StriveTogether National Partnership (  

SAM Replicates National Model

Beginning in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky six years ago, more than 300 leaders of local organizations decided to focus on a region-wide approach to improving student achievement. They named their collaboration “StriveTogether … Every Child, Cradle to Career.”

Rather than adding services or programs, “Strive” built upon existing assets. Its impact came from a shared commitment to data-defined targets of academic achievement at every level. Partnership agreements were signed by educators, corporate leaders, foundations, governments, and faith communities.

“Strive” Partners focused their attention on a single set of goals and shared performance indicators. They discussed progress, learned from each other, and aligned efforts to achieve their goals.

Managed by a board and a small staff, “Strive” supported “collaborative action networks” of educators and partners across sectors, pursuing specific performance targets.

Six years later, “Strive” is achieving what it has been measuring, including a 9% rise in kindergarten readiness, an 11% increase in high school graduation, and a 10% increase in college enrollment.

Recently, the “Strive” model has been adopted by other communities across the country ( Early leaders include Milwaukee, Portland, Twin Cities, Dayton, Dallas, Albuquerque, and a few others. 

At present, there are over 75 “Strive Together” network member communities. Spartanburg County is among the early affiliates. SAM recently received certification as an “emerging” cradle to career partnership.