Over 120 attendees from 36 schools and 19 districts in four states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, and New York) gathered recently for the 2nd annual RISE Network Grade 9 Symposium. The Symposium, which focuses on how schools can invest in Grade 9 on-track achievement as a key lever to improve high school graduation rates and postsecondary success, is designed to spark ideas, jumpstart planning, and create connections across schools and districts.
The two-day event began with an introduction to the RISE Network’s Foundational Conditions for Grade 9 Success, a framework supporting planning and allowing school teams to benchmark progress over time. Following this was an in-depth exploration into on-track data team meetings, one of RISE’s bedrock Grade 9 strategies. Participants viewed a sample Grade 9 on-track data team meeting and engage in a simulated data protocol. Teams were supported with resources to bring back and embed into their school cultures.
On day two of the Symposium, RISE administrators, teachers, and central office leaders shared their experiences launching freshman success efforts and offered key learnings aligned to our Conditions for Success.
This Grade 9 Educator Panel, moderated by Sam Purdy, RISE Director of Engagement, and Samantha Lucky, RISE Engagement Manager, featured Erin Lyons-Barton, Principal at Edison Middle School; LaShante James, Grade 9 Assistant Principal at Brien McMahon High School; Phil Mitchell, Social Studies Teacher at Hartford Public High School; Khanisha Moore, RISE Senior On-Track Coach at Westhill High School; and Suzanne Palmieri, Assistant Director of Educational Initiatives and Innovation for Hartford Public Schools.
Panelists provided insight into how they have built their own Grade 9 programs from the ground up and offered key takeaways. According to Mitchell, “It’s important for students to know what it means to be on-track. Our team shares the criteria for being on-track, holds on-track conferences and celebrations, and engages students throughout the year so they don’t give up.” Expanding upon the importance of prioritizing Grade 9 work, James shared that “structures like meeting times and data systems will help identify groups of students to target for support. And mindsets are important – you need to believe you can move the needle for these students.”
Coming from the district-level perspective, Palmieri said that “working with RISE is a great way to align priorities and initiatives in your district. There’s trust and it’s built by the fact that the students know that the teachers know exactly where they are and they are on the same page, working towards a common goal.”
Many of the panelists, along with other RISE Network educators, spoke to the various elements of a comprehensive Grade 9 strategy in breakout sessions focusing on on-track definition, culture, coaches, and conferences, as well as teaming and scheduling and summer bridge programs.
At the conclusion of the Symposium, teams gathered for targeted reflections and planning, during which they synthesized what they had learned and decided what to prioritize going forward. Teams also received resources from RISE to guide their planning and to support conversations around intentional next steps to bring back to their respective schools.
As with any RISE event, we are always excited to hear from participants. Here is some of the feedback we received from Symposium attendees:
“The Symposium is great if you are new or seasoned to Grade 9 work. You receive priceless resources that make it easy to implement all aspects of the work.”
“The Symposium is a great way to refresh your Grade 9 knowledge and renew your passion and practices around Grade 9 work.”
“A great way to bring back to your district the importance of Grade 9, regardless of where you are in the process of prioritizing Grade 9! I walked away with a lot of ideas, big and small.”
“Participants left this experience with a clear vision of how they want to either pilot or build upon Grade 9 work at their schools,” said Lucky, who was the lead coordinator of the event. “Many educators expressed that they were energized by the work and inspired to better support our students in Connecticut and beyond.” The RISE Grade 9 Symposium represents the start of an exciting improvement journey as schools work to integrate new freshman success strategies during the 2023-24 school year.
And it doesn’t end there!
Participants in last year’s Grade 9 Symposium were invited to join our new Freshman Focus Network (FFN), through which they participated in monthly coaching and community of practice sessions. This yearlong endeavor culminated in our first-ever Freshman Focus Forum following the 2023 Symposium. At the Forum, 35 educators from five districts came together to celebrate progress made throughout the year, reflect on implementation in 2022-23, and dedicate time to planning for continued advances in 2023-24.
All nine schools that participated in year one of the FFN have signed on to continue next year, joined by another eight schools from this year’s Symposium to bring the total to 17 schools! To learn more about the RISE Freshman Focus Network, email PD@ctrise.org.