Grade 9 Innovation & Learning Cycles Drive Network Improvement

Grade 9 Success

Each quarter, as part of RISE’s Network Learning Agenda, our team convenes leaders of Grade 9 strategy and College and Career readiness (CCR) efforts across all network schools for meetings that aim to promote cross-school collaboration. These meetings, known as Innovation and Learning Cycles (or I&Ls), serve as platforms for network educators and teams to identify high-leverage focus areas for Grade 9 and CCR work, periodically reflect on implementation and impact with colleagues, and share resources, feedback, and ideas. 

Across the network, this year has brought renewed focus to our work in Grade 9, and in response to that development, we made a shift to the Grade 9 On-Track I&L Cycle. As the network doubled in size, our new partner schools dove headfirst into launching on-track efforts and our founding partner schools have sought to deepen the impact of their well-established freshman on-track work. To create space for intentional focus on grade-wide strategy, we scaled back the I&L participant list to include only the 10 administrators overseeing Grade 9 work across the network. We have been encouraged by the feedback on this change, resulting in a deeper focus on data-informed improvement cycles, and powerful partnerships across schools and cohorts.

In the year’s first meeting, administrators used data to work through a deliberate process to solidify the focus area that would drive a year-long improvement cycle aimed at improving Grade 9 student outcomes. This process included a root cause analysis using a modified “five whys” protocol, aimed at helping administrators drill into the source of the problem they were aiming to address. The high-level focus areas administrators identified range from decreasing course failures in freshman STEM courses to addressing chronic absenteeism to strengthening on-track performance of Special Education students. In subsequent meetings, administrators have refined the measurable success criteria they are using to evaluate progress, and they have partnered with one another to use data to draw conclusions about the early impact of the tests of change they have implemented in connection with these improvement cycles. 

This spirit of sharing has helped the I&L Cycle become a space of true thought partnership among administrators leading similar Grade 9 efforts across RISE Network high schools. “When we’ve discussed other schools’ problems of practice, I was able to get so many ideas to bring back,” said Erin Lyons-Barton, Assistant Principal at Maloney High School. “I definitely have benefited from the support, idea sharing, problem solving and collaboration with the Assistant Principals from other schools through the I&L.”

As schools across the state have quickly transitioned to distance learning, the RISE Network is working to take this collaborative community focused on Grade 9 into a virtual space. The unprecedented school closures resulting from the spread of the novel coronavirus have added a new dimension to the notion of our network partners tackling shared challenges. Now, Grade 9 administrators from Stamford and Norwalk to Hartford and Manchester are springing into action to organize on-track data teams via videoconferences, coordinate educators’ proactive outreach to students and families, and reconfigure systems to keep freshmen on track to promote to sophomore year. Under ordinary or extraordinary circumstances, this is an incredible group of educators leading inspired and innovative work in their schools — and we are eager to continue to promote their fruitful collaboration.