Year Two of the Freshman Focus Network Closes with a Celebration of Learning

Grade 9 SuccessNetwork Collaboration and Learning

Previously, we shared how the FFN provides actionable strategies to support students through the Grade 9 transition. Midyear, we checked back in with the 2023-24 FFN cohort to share how schools are making progress, adopting promising practices, and celebrating early results aligned with the conditions for success. Now, we close out the academic year and share what’s in store for the year ahead. 

In early May, educators from across all 18 schools in the Freshman Focus Network came together in Hartford for a Leadership Summit. The day-long gathering celebrated the progress made at each school in setting the stage for Grade 9 success. RISE and school teams reflected on achievements in 2023-24, planned next steps for 2024-25, and delved into the final focus area for the year; prioritization of Grade 9.

Keynote speakers Ben Dubow and Tracy Caldwell shared insights from their work as leaders in the Hartford community. Their stories challenged participants to think broadly about how they could support individuals in finding purpose and passion. Afternoon breakout sessions were led by three educators from FFN schools, who discussed their experiences launching and maintaining Grade 9 success initiatives. Ed Walker of Worcester Technical School in Worcester, MA, shared strategies to bolster support and a sense of community for all Grade 9 students. Also from Worcester, Dan Little of South High School led a session exploring how clearly defined leadership roles have been instrumental in bringing about positive change for his school’s Grade 9 on-track work. Finally, Melissa Labbe and Meghan Donnelly of Deering High School in Portland, ME shared their system for monitoring students’ on-track data. 

“I liked being able to hear what other schools are doing and getting tangible resources on how to successfully implement it,” commented Alexandra Grant, Dean of Student Support at Danbury High School. Caitlin LeClair, Assistant Principal at Portland High School in Portland, ME, agreed. “The most valuable part of the day was learning from other schools and having time to collaborate with my team,” she said.

Summing up the impact of the Summit, Dan Falucci, Dean of Students for Burncoat High School in Worcester, said, “Being able to reflect on what we actually did and accomplished this year was invaluable.  It is easy to get lost in the weeds and forget about all of the impactful things that you did, and this was a great way to recenter ourselves!” Dan, whose school is in their second year of the FFN, will be participating in an educator panel at RISE’s upcoming Grade 9 Summer Symposium

Later in May, members of the Freshman Focus Network capped off the year with a virtual showcase. The highlight of this event was a “Celebration of Learning,” where RISE coaches highlighted some of the great work that happened at each FFN school throughout the year.

Throughout the FFN’s 2023-24 arc of learning, participants had the opportunity to hear from educators at multiple schools across the network, who shared their perspectives on important Grade 9 focus areas: 

  • On-Track Data Teams: led by Erin Lyons-Barton, Principal of Edison Middle School in Meriden, Kayla Walker, On-Track Coordinator for East Hartford High School, and Justin Taylor, Assistant Principal for Hartford Public High School.
  • On-Track Culture and Engagement: led by Jake Roe, Principal, and Lorri Race, Assistant Principal, at Norwich High School in Norwich, NY, as well as Khanisha Moore, Senior On-Track Coach for Westhill High School in Stamford. 
  • Targeted Transitions: led by Kaitlyn Kennedy, Teacher at Manchester High School, and Kate Ferrucci, Teacher at Naugatuck High School.
  • Scaling On-Track: led by Brooke Lafreniere, Grade 9 Assistant Principal, and Chuck Buder, Grade 10 Assistant Principal at Bulkeley High School in Hartford. 

“Because we work with so many schools, we get many different perspectives about this work,” said Peter Lorinser, RISE Engagement Manager and FFN lead. “People love to hear from fellow educators who are leading this work on the ground, so throughout the year, our team has identified schools that are doing strong work and put them on display for others to learn from. At RISE, we believe in the power of networks, and part of that is lifting up bright spots within each school and sharing them with a broader audience.” 

Visit our website to learn more about the Freshman Focus Network. Leaders interested in exploring taking part can email Peter Lor​inser, RISE Engagement Manager.