The Student Success Network’s mission is to help empower students with the social and emotional competencies that equip them for success in college and in life.
ur story starts at the end of 2010 when Nitzan Pelman, then Executive Director of Citizen Schools NYC, asked if I would host a dinner where NYC EDs of Education and Youth Development organizations could meet one another. She would invite the nonprofit leaders if I would provide the food and venue. It sounded like a smart idea and fun! January 2011, about 20 people gathered at my apartment. As we sat around the living room with plates on our laps, each person introduced his/her organization and self and talked about a success and a challenge each faced. The EDs raised the challenges you would expect: board development, fund-raising, and talent recruitment and development.
Iris Chen, then ED of I Have a Dream, got everyone’s attention by focusing on social-emotional learning (SEL). “What concerns me is that SEL is the realm and responsibility of our organizations and I, for one, don’t have sufficient information to know if we do a good job,” she said. This one remark triggered a conversation that lasted 2 years and covered a broad range of topics. EDs came in and out of our gatherings as we searched for a way to work together.
At Mike O’Brien’s suggestion, we “listened to the customer”: Elizabeth Green, then CEO of Gotham Schools and now Chalkbeat, interviewed a panel of New Visions school principals who told us they would welcome a way to identify high-performing, cost-effective programs in the college readiness, access and success space; Jeff Edmondson, co-Founder of the Strive Together Cradle-to-Career Partnership, pointed out that collaboration and collective impact are different beasts: to have collective impact, you need to align around specific goals and use data to measure progress and drive continuous improvement efforts toward the shared goals;
We embraced the concept of scaling practices, not programs, because we could better serve more students, faster.
Our conversations boiled down to two questions: Did the group want to adopt SEL as a shared focus? If so, which SEL characteristics would they measure, and how? We answered the first question, Yes! Answering the second question took more study and debate and the help of Philliber Research.
Through the difficult process of alignment – first, around ultimate Outcomes for the youth they serve and then around Measurement – the leaders came to trust each other, feeling they were among a group of like-minded, mission-driven colleagues who understood the challenges of the work and shared the same “One Day” vision. They learned to see the data the same way: the more, the better….yes, to evaluate progress, but more importantly, to highlight opportunities to work smarter and better.
This year, 40 organizations serving more than 20,000 students will administer the same Student Survey at the start and end of their program to measure growth in student mindsets (growth, self-efficacy, belonging) and behaviors (agency/self-advocacy, help-seeking, interpersonal skills, problem-solving, self-regulation). The organizations will use survey data to identify “bright spots”, places where programs are seeing significant gains, to learn what those places are doing right, and to test and adapt those practices to their settings. By sharing successful practices and co-creating new ones, one day all children in NYC will have the opportunity to succeed in college and in life.
Sue Lehmann, co-Founder and Chief Facilitator