Collective Impact and Middle School Success

The work we are doing, building Community Schools in partnership with the members of the Asheville Buncombe Middle Grades Network is starting to pay off:
  • Knowing when students fall off track and providing targeted services to ensure they succeed is critical. Having real-time data to know when this happens is critical. That’s why we’re so excited to announce that our Early Warning and Response System is currently being utilized in 7 schools with 4,420 students being monitored for key leading indicators of high school graduation. Our partners in the Middle Grades Network work together to evaluate how students are doing and ensure services are provided.
  • In less than a year we’ve run 57 Homework Diners – these are free weekly events for families to get homework help and a great healthy dinner. They are for families with K-12 students in three (soon four) school districts, and as a result have served 1,155 people from 417 households.
  • In order to do this work we’ve enlisted the help of volunteers who’ve already logged more than 464 hours of service at Homework Diners and are helping to build a sense of community.

Gaining National Attention

  • April 2017: Governor Roy Cooper visited Enka Middle School to take in a Homework Diner experience.
  • September 2017: the Coalition for Community Schools and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recognized our very own Asheville Buncombe Middle Grades Network as one of five community school initiatives across the country focused on building a strong and lasting culture of health.
  • Also in September: Congressman Patrick McHenry, Representative for North Carolina’s 10th District, visited Owen Middle School on a fact finding tour.

We’ve Got More Work To Do

These are all wonderful indicators that we’re moving in the right direction. However, we should never forget that there are tremendous barriers that still exist for a large portion of Buncombe County students. One of the biggest barriers to educational success is poverty. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, 1 in 5 students living in poverty in Buncombe County do not graduate, twice the rate of their peers. Add to that the studies showing that the likelihood of graduating plunges to just 25% for those students hitting one or more of the following indicators (without successful intervention), and the issue becomes even more troublesome for our community.

Middle School Key Indicators

Attendance: Student missing 18 days or 10% of school
Behavior: Two or more serious referrals
Core Academics: Failing a core course such as English or Math
What does this mean for us as a community if kids don’t graduate from high school? Adults without high school diplomas are:
  • Three times more likely to live in poverty, thus perpetuating the cycle
  • Six times more likely to be arrested
  • Have a shorter average life expectancy — 9 years on average
Our Early Warning and Response system measures the very things (Attendance, Behavior and Core Academics) that let us know if a student is off track to graduating on time. 

You Can Help

This is a societal challenge, and as such, needs a collective solution. We’re asking you today to become part of that collective impact. Here are the ways you can become involved and make a difference through Middle School Success.  

The Community School Strategy

So what does it mean to be a Community School? It means you have a central community hub that brings families, educators, organizations and businesses together to provide a wide variety of supports and services for students who are facing significant barriers to educational success. 
In turn, by bringing all of these stakeholders together to work on a single issue, an environment of accountability, continuous communication and mutually reinforcing activities is created. This is what we mean by collective impact. 
Collective impact is more than just a buzz-phrase, it’s a framework. The concepts of collective impact have a long history, but the name was first used by John Kania and Mark Kramer, who wrote about it in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2011. Based on the premise that collective action across all sectors — where entities forgo their own agendas in favor of shared measurement and alignment of effort — provides the greatest opportunity to tackle large-scale, complex social problems. A key component of the framework is a centralized infrastructure. This comes in the form of a backbone organization, which has dedicated staff whose role is to help participating organizations shift from acting alone to acting in concert. 
One of the ways this collective impact framework takes the form is the Asheville Buncombe Middle Grades Network (ABMGN), consisting of Asheville City Schools, Buncombe County Schools, United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County (backbone organization) and more than 40 community partners. All of these organizations work in partnership to implement the Middle School Success initiative (MSS). 
And to bring it full-circle, one of the four key strategies of MSS is transforming schools into district wide hubs of service. These are schools that support the health, education and financial stability of the whole family and neighboring community.