Pursuing Educational Equity

Why Education Matters:
“Despite our city’s challenges, we need more than ever to intensely focus on activities that will advance student achievement. I am eager to help invigorate the next era of opportunity in our capital city.”

Phil Waldeck
Chair of the Achieve Hartford! Board of Directors

When Phil Waldeck became chairperson of the Board of Directors in 2016, he pledged Achieve Hartford! would focus more intently than ever on activities that will advance student achievement. Since that time, Achieve Hartford! has redoubled the organization’s efforts to make real change that improves outcomes for students. Last month’s announcement of a new direction for Achieve Hartford! comes after significant internal deliberation and reflects how we as an organization can address unmet needs in our city.

To meet the mandate of quality education for all, more is required of us – individually and collectively.

We know a community of change-agents acting together can transform a city. Like you, we take calculated risks for things that are worth it. The education of 22,000 Hartford kids each year is more than worth it. So, we are shifting from “demanding change” to “creating change” through a new approach we call “Grasstops Organizing”.

What is Grasstops Organizing?

Achieve Hartford! is a Hartford-based social change nonprofit that organizes people in pursuit of educational equity for all students in Hartford Public Schools (HPS). Focusing our efforts in only three areas at a time, we activate, support and unite a tribe of change agents in the private sector: business/workforce, community-based organizations, higher education, and philanthropy. We work to ensure the private sector is prepared to be co-equal partners to the public sector, in which was are all driven by shared values and governed by shared responsibility.

With our tribe, we work to realign power and resources to move student outcomes. We realign power and resources (people, time, data and money) by:

  1. Using personal narratives to inspire action;
  2. Building relationships to connect more individuals to the work and activate individual leadership;
  3. Increasing individual leadership capacity to strengthen leadership in Hartford;
  4. Launching coalitions that prove we can work together, differently;
  5. Developing shared strategies and a common agenda;
  6. Coordinating and supporting action to implement the agenda; and
  7. Continuously reflecting, evaluating, and sharing key learnings to improve our work.


What’s Next?

When we say we need to work together, differently, we are acknowledging the need to take a new route to close the opportunity and achievement gap between Hartford and peer districts. We are acknowledging that what we have been doing was not working to move student outcomes.

We also acknowledge that public sector leaders like the mayor, the superintendent, and the board of education cannot achieve these goals alone. None of us can afford to hold onto this silent expectation.

We as a city are moving into uncharted territory. We are coming out of a period of frequent changes of leadership at the highest levels, including bringing in a new mayor, new superintendent, and new chair of the board of education. And with senior-level staff changes at HPS, newly elected board members, and a mayor seeking to become Connecticut’s next governor, it looks like there may be even more leadership changes in the coming year.

We cannot leave the public sector left to do this work alone. Despite many individual volunteers and organizational partnerships supporting the public sector, greater cross-sector coordination is needed. Without organized and coordinated support from the private sector, student outcomes will remain stagnant and the opportunity and achievement gap between Hartford and peer districts will persist.

Hartford’s 22,000 students need you. They need all of us. And they need us to work together.

Trusting in one another to come together to solve our city’s problems comes with risks. The risks are real, but the opportunity for success is even greater. Join us. Join our tribe and find out how you can be a part of the change that will transform Hartford into a talent hub for the state and that will increase the number of students getting a first-quality education.

We are providing multiple opportunities next month to go deeper in discussion on our action teams, work-groups and exploring a new third initiative.

Our education impact gatherings will include learning more about our direction but equally important, we want your reaction and ideas.

Please email us and let us know if you would like more information about attending.

If we are ever to make change real for all Hartford students, the time is now. This is Hartford’s moment. But it won’t be for long, if we don’t step up.

In her own words

Achieve Hartford!’s newest team member Daiana Lambrecht, coalition organizer lead talks about her work and the power of Grasstops organizing.

All In! Stakeholder Caucus: The Talent Around Us

Here’s a part of the urban workforce development debate you may not know about: Connecticut’s aging population is putting more pressure on employers and industries to replenish the rapidly retiring talent pipeline. Major cities, such as Hartford, will be responsible for 40% of Connecticut’s employment in the coming 10-15 years. But, with only 26% of Hartford students obtaining post-secondary diplomas, this is resulting in a talent gap often referred to as the middle skills gap.

On Tuesday, October 17th, members of the All IN! Coalition presented this reality at the 2nd Annual Stakeholder Caucus, and discussed why now is the time for public and private sector collaboration to solve this part of the talent pipeline problem.  The message was clear — more can and must be done to take advantage of the talent that surrounds us. Helping Hartford youth prepare for and enter high-demand careers, locally, is a social conversation with an economic competitiveness imperative.

In his presentation at the caucus, Hartford Promise executive director, Richard Sugarman, highlights the positive impacts of college success – you can watch his section of the presentation here.  Improved health outcomes, reducing the need for social services, and lifting Hartford residents out of poverty by accessing the workforce competitively are results of completing some level of post-secondary education.  This makes clear the connection between education to workforce, the economy and a thriving community.

The coalition Hartford needs now
“Unleashing this potential is critical. Unless you unleash potential, you don’t have the talent quite yet. Unless you cultivate it and actually deploy it, it’s just potential”

Jaime Merisotis
President and CEO, Lumina Foundation

What’s needed to unleash the potential of talent is better coordination of various sectors and leaders with deliberate intent to ensure the education to workforce pipeline works.  While other efforts in the city focus on adults who have stopped out or re-engaging youth who are out of school and not working, the ALL IN! coalition is on a mission to prevent Hartford students from ever falling out of the system to begin with.  By realigning and reallocating resources, through our public and private sector partnerships, the coalition is working to ensure students leave high school prepared and with self-sufficiency to complete post-secondary education. ​

This coordinated action, supported by a strong steering committee and driven by Achieve Hartford! – who serves as the backbone organization, develops plans collectively with specific strategies carried out by action teams.

Two action teams were successfully launched in year one, Summer Melt and the Longitudinal Data Project.

Summer MeltSummer melt is the occurrence of seemingly college-intending students, who fail to enroll in college the fall after graduation. These students have completed key college-going steps, such as being accepted to college, but a student is considered to have melted if he or she was college-intending, and yet still fails to transition successfully to college the fall after high school graduation.

  • The HPS class of 2015 had an 88% college acceptance rate, and only a 61% enrollment rate during the first year. This action team performed an intervention with a cohort of 121 high school graduates from the class of 2017. The goal was to increase the enrollment rate for this class by ten percentage points over the previous class, which if successful would put enrollment over the 70% line.

Longitudinal Data Project – Lincoln Financial Group and Hartford Public Schools (HPS) signed a data-sharing agreement that presents an unprecedented opportunity for all relevant stakeholders in Hartford education to see which factors weigh most heavily in determining student outcomes.

  • HPS shared seven years of student-level data with Lincoln’s actuaries, who are using the data to produce a data dashboard and a predictive model.

You can watch Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, executive director, Martin Estey reporting on the progress of the action teams here.

With a goal oriented agenda driving the mission, the coalition announced year two priorities for 2018.

  1. “Nearlies” Action Team — will focus on students who are close to crossing the eligibility line for a Hartford Promise scholarship. Through targeted interventions more students will meet the criteria to qualify and receive $20,000 towards 4-year and $10,000 towards 2-year college.
  2. Persistence and Retention Action Team – the coalition is actively engaging the nine local colleges and exploring strategies that all can implement to increase first year undergrad persistence to second year and then degree attainment.


Post-Secondary Success Matters

The vision of Hartford as a talent hub – where Hartford students are accessing opportunities, employers are filling talent gaps, and the city is reaping the benefits of economic growth – won’t’ be realized without better alignment and coordinated resources. We also know this goal is completely within our reach, because with 16 high schools maintaining graduating classes of less than 100 students, we can make sure each student gets the support they need to continue their education or career credential.

If we want to see a thriving talent pipeline coming out of Hartford, it’s time for everyone to be All IN! Getting involved in one of our action teams or approaching us with a new one is simple, email Chris Marcelli to schedule a time to talk.

2016-17 SBAC: How did Hartford Students Perform?

Looking at the Growth Model. An Achieve Hartford! Mini-Report

Following a student’s growth from year to year gives a bigger picture of curriculum and teaching effectiveness. The Connecticut State Department of Education adopted a growth model with the belief that all students in grades 4 through 8 should demonstrate growth each year in ELA and Mathematics.  Click through to our third SBAC mini-report for a closer look at Hartford student’s growth performance.

See the report here

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