In April 2012, I stepped up to lead and restructure Higher Achievement. Since 2007, Higher Achievement had been aiming to reach 10 cities by 2017, serving 500 students per city. However, the economy had changed and our financial assumptions no longer held. The education reform landscape had changed, but Higher Achievement had not. We had gold-standard proof (a random control trial, longitudinal study) that our program was the only out-of-school time model of its kind in the country to have statistically significant impact on test scores. But, we couldn’t attract enough attention and break through the noise.
I knew we needed to think differently. We needed help to challenge our assumptions. That help was Community Wealth Partners.
Just three months after I was promoted to CEO and downsized the national office to achieve financial sustainability, I engaged Community Wealth Partners to lead us through a strategic planning process. We selected them because of their strong track record, and because of their genuine investment in our mission. Community Wealth Partners staff visited our Achievement Centers and went beyond the scope of their contract by attending our scholars’ events. They struck the perfect balance between business and passion.
A strategic plan steering committee with representatives from our four affiliates and national was established to develop a cohesive new plan, based on feedback from our key stakeholders. We listened closely as school partners and funders encouraged us to leverage our strong model to propel bigger change.
This collaborative planning process was as important as the end product, and the Community Wealth Partners’ team were expert facilitators of the process. They enabled staff and board leadership to unite, heal, and craft a bold new vision – together. Our bold goal is “By 2030, all students in Higher Achievement cities will graduate from high school, ready for college.” We grappled with what keeps us restless and determined our work will not be done until that bold goal is achieved.
To achieve that goal, we will work differently, but without sacrificing our high-intensity, high-impact model. We will concentrate scale in our four cities in a new “zone” approach, in close partnership with schools and with cash investments required. This approach will ensure financial sustainability and enable Higher Achievement to reach tipping points of culture within single schools and impact many more students. By 2015, we will directly serve 70 percent more scholars in our rigorous 650 hours per year model and indirectly impact 7000 students.
Schools are lining up to partner with us. Funders are excited. In fact, we just received a $500,000 investment from the Wallace Foundation to support this strategy. Without Community Wealth Partners’ expert guidance, this bold new thinking would have been impossible. Now, we Dream Forward.