National Investment in SAM launches new Collaborative Action Network

April, 2017

Spartanburg, SC — The Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) is one of five national partnerships selected this year to receive coaching and funding to accelerate its county-wide academic achievement goals through an Accelerator Fund Award. The award will speed the rate at which SAM’s efforts positively impact educational outcomes for children in Spartanburg County. SAM is part of the seventy member national StriveTogether learning network that provides support for implementing effective change across the cradle-to-career educational continuum.

“Our goal as an organization is to prove that we can achieve consistent and sustained improvements in student outcomes at scale,” StriveTogether Managing Director Jeff Edmondson said. “The Accelerator Fund is designed to help communities reach educational goals faster while building the strength of the partnership to accelerate their progress over the long term. We believe these five communities will identify and spread practices that achieve results, particularly for the most vulnerable children, and capture lessons that will advance other collective impact partnerships across the country.”

SAM, along with partnerships in Seattle, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C. and Redwing/Northfield (Minnesota) were selected for their proven ability to impact outcomes for students. They join 2015 awardees from Dallas, Portland, Tacoma, Racine, Memphis and the two-state partnership in Cincinnati/North Kentucky. These now lead an exclusive Accelerator Fund “community,” a network of schools, business partners, community support agencies, government, and faith agencies committed to work together to improve educational effectiveness.

Accelerator status came after a competitive application process during which SAM outlined its current success strategies and support for increasing its impact for Spartanburg County students. The Accelerator Fund was created to increase the rate at which StriveTogether partners implement the nationally recognized collective impact approach known as the Theory of Action. Accelerator Fund investors include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the Metlife Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and others. The award will allow a group of five Spartanburg County leaders to receive intensive training in the StriveTogether strategies including continuous improvement methods, data use, and results-based leadership. This Collaborative Action Network (CAN) team will focus their efforts to impact Early Grades Reading achievement.  

Collaborative Action Network director Beth Thompson leads the new Early Grades Reading CAN in a Data and Strategy dive before they head to their first intensive work session in Charlotte, NC. Throughout the year, the team will work with groups across the country to define, implement, and assess impact strategies to improve student outcomes.

Collaborative Action Network director Beth Thompson leads the new Early Grades Reading CAN in a Data and Strategy dive before they head to their first intensive work session in Charlotte, NC. Throughout the year, the team will work with groups across the country to define, implement, and assess impact strategies to improve student outcomes.

Engagement: the new C.A.N. activates

SAM staff members Dr. John Stockwell, Executive Director and Dr. Glen Carson, Director of Data Management were joined by: Argyl Brewton, Principal of Woodruff Elementary School; Marquice Clark, Assistant Principal of the Cleveland Leadership Academy; and Heather Witt, Vice President of Community Impact for the United Way of the Piedmont for the launch of the Early Grades Reading focus.   The team brings many decades of experience to their focus area along with passion for impacting the success of students across Spartanburg.

Argyl Brewton, Principal, Woodruff Elementary School

Argyl Brewton, Principal, Woodruff Elementary School

         Argyl Brewton is the data-driven and purpose driven principal of Woodruff Elementary School. Having a mind for results and having been embedded in a single community for many years, she adds a perspective of how a community changes over time to the team’s work.

Marquice Clark, Assistant Principal, Cleveland Academy of Leadership 

Marquice Clark, Assistant Principal, Cleveland Academy of Leadership 

·         Marquice Clark brings experience in addressing learning disparities to the effort, putting his experience as a teacher and assistant principal at Cleveland Academy of Leadership to the group’s effort to improve early literacy across the County. He has experience in identifying barrier-breaking strategies, having recently received the 2017 Call Me MISTER Trailblazer award. The program seeks to increase the diversity in professional educators focusing on “Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models.”

Heather Witt, Vice President for Community Impact, United Way of the Piedmont

Heather Witt, Vice President for Community Impact, United Way of the Piedmont

Heather Witt has led the charge for building community collaboration through her work with as vice president for community impact with United Way of the Piedmont.  She brings a capacity to  draw the county’s non-profit resources together to impact early grades reading.

“The Spartanburg Academic Movement and Spartanburg County are fortunate to have individuals who are qualified, able and ready to impact change,” SAM Executive Director Dr. Stockwell said. “We have undertaken significant work on both ends of the cradle to career spectrum and are well poised to begin our work on the collective community concern around Early Grades Literacy.”   With the support of the Accelerator Fund, we will be able to make strategic decisions contributing to the success of all Spartanburg County students.

Brewton, Clark, Witt, Stockwell, and Carson begin the Strive Together Leadership Program in Charlotte, NC on April 12. They will continue the program with intensive training taking place over the coming year in San Francisco, Austin, Nashville, and Miami, bringing strategies home to involve others in implementing and impacting Spartanburg County students.  In addition, their work will serve as a model for other communities seeking to improve their early grades reading achievement.

“This represents a major step forward for our work here at SAM, but more importantly for our Spartanburg County students. We are jumping into the middle of a county-wide collective effort to make sure all our children are reading well by third grade,” Stockwell said at the team’s first local meeting where excitement set the tone for the hard work to come.

College and Career Readiness Collaborative Action Network Launches

The Spartanburg Academic Movement met another major milestone recently as it launched its second Collaborative Action Network (“CAN”).  The Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce has partnered with SAM to convene the College and Career Readiness CAN.

The College and Career Readiness CAN is fast at work, having already convened twice since launching in June of this year.  One of the group’s first tasks was to create a team mandate – a collective statement to guide the work of the group: 

The College and Career Readiness CAN will enable Spartanburg County students to achieve their college and career readiness potential by setting targets, identifying drivers or influencing factors to reach these targets, engaging community partners to impact the drivers, and tracking the attainment of the targets. 

The College and Career Readiness CAN is co-facilitated by SAM’s Director of Collaborative Action Networks Beth Thompson and Mark Fendley with BMW Manufacturing.  Members of the CAN are:

David Berry – Johnson Development Self Storage Division
Gloria Close – Citizen Scholars
Cheryl Cox – Spartanburg Community College
Rachel Dattilo – Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System
Ty Dawkins – Chapman High School
Andy Flynt – Spartanburg County Public Libraries
David Griffin – Michelin
Crystal Irby – Urban League of the Upstate
Ann McIntyre – Dorman High School
Susan Myers – Spartanburg County Public Libraries
Cherie Pressley – Upstate Regional Education Center
Allen Smith – Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce
Donette Stewart – USC Upstate
Tabitha Talley – Spartanburg School District 2

This CAN is focused on improving ACT WorkKeys and Post-Secondary Enrollment outcomes for students in Spartanburg County.  Following the Six Sigma continuous improvement process, the group will identify potential factors that contribute to strong or weak performance on the state’s career readiness assessment (ACT WorkKeys) and whether or not students pursue postsecondary studies after graduating high school.

The most recent data for Spartanburg County (2015) reveals that 71.8% (Applied Mathematics) 82.3% (Locating Information) and 87.8% (Reading for Information) of high school juniors scored at a level four or greater on the ACT WorkKeys assessments.  A score of level four or greater means that students are prepared to match the skill level of 67% or more of the jobs profiled around the country.  

The percentage of students graduating high school and enrolling in some form of postsecondary education has been steadily increasing county-wide since 2011.  Of the students that graduated high school in 2014, 78.1% enrolled in either a technical certificate program, two or four-year institution, or the armed forces.  

A particular focus of this CAN will be setting goals to reduce disparities that exist in college/career readiness for students in poverty and within minority subgroups.

As the group analyzes the current data landscape, opportunities to improve outcomes for students will be developed with the help and support of local nonprofit organizations and other groups eager to work collectively and collaboratively.  


Cleveland Academy of Leadership kicked off a new school year this week with a Back to School Bash complete with school supplies, food, fun and a host of community partners welcoming families to the school.  The school was buzzing with activity as parents and students registered, met their teachers, collected information about the school year, and visited booths that filled the hallways.

It was an honor for the Spartanburg Academic Movement to participate as a community partner.  Oftentimes, it seems difficult to communicate our mission “to create a culture shift in academic achievement for students in Spartanburg County,” especially when the audience happens to be young students and families eagerly anticipating their first day of school. 

We did not have to look far though for the perfect message that we wanted to convey… “begin with the end in mind.”  As a Lighthouse Leader in Me school, Cleveland Academy of Leadership students practice the seven habits of highly effective people every day, including the second habit, “begin with the end in mind.”  The beginning of a new school year seemed like the perfect opportunity to relate this habit with the mission of the Spartanburg Academic Movement.

As students (and some adults!) put on a Spartanburg High School cap and gown, their smiles exploded for the camera.  The students fumbled to find their hands in a gown that was three and four times their size and tried to position the cap perfectly while many parents and family members stood closely by beaming smiles themselves.  Many times a parent was heard saying, “That will fit one day WHEN you graduate!”  Not IF you graduate, but WHEN you graduate.  The dialogue was not only about making it to high school graduation, but donning a cap and gown to accept a much-deserved college degree too! 

The buses are running, the school bells are ringing, the teachers stand ready, and whether or not they are entering a preschool or fifth-grade classroom, the students at Cleveland Academy of Leadership are beginning with the end in mind!

Molly Spearman Visits SAM

Superintendent Spearman with SAM Staff

Superintendent Spearman with SAM Staff

South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman was in Spartanburg this morning to visit local schools with Dr. Russell Booker, Superintendent of Spartanburg School District Seven. After tours at Cleveland Academy of Leadership and Meeting Street Academy, Dr.  Booker brought Mrs. Spearman by the SAM office for a visit.

Dr. Stockwell, SAM Executive Director, and members of the staff talked with the State Superintendent about our national partnership with StriveTogether; about the nature of collective impact, and how SAM is working to change expectations for high levels of academic achievement for all children across  Spartanburg County, focusing on six stages of learning from cradle to career. Their conversation was promising.  Superintendent Spearman expressed particular interest in the work of SAM's the Collaborative Action Networks and SAM's strategy to improve outcomes by starting with readiness for success in kindergarten.

On leaving the office,  Spearman graciously agreed to a photo with the staff of the Spartanburg Academic Movement, and  offered to help spread our message on the South Carolina Department of Education’s website. We look forward to continued communication with Superintendent Spearman and her staff.