Friends of Higher Achievement,
First, thank you for your unwavering support. All of you are critical to Higher Achievement’s mission of closing the opportunity gaps and helping middle school students in our communities find success. We’re writing to share exciting changes in our model and programs – changes that will accelerate outcomes for our scholars, in partnership with families and communities.
Right now, our academic readiness and high school placement efforts are delivering results for many of our scholars. Last year, we exceeded academic goals across the organization, with 63% of our scholars earning As or Bs or improving a full letter grade. And over our more than four decades of operation, Higher Achievement has transformed the lives of our alumni/ae, who have gone on to transform the lives of others. For example, Lamont Gordon serves on our Board of Directors and chairs our program and strategy committee. Lamont graduated from Brown University, earned his PhD in education from Harvard, and has worked both for the Jackie Robinson Foundation and the Posse Foundation, helping young people succeed in college.
However, no program that is tackling the achievement and opportunity gaps can be complacent. This work is urgent, and we need to push ourselves to continually improve.
With evidence about our program from the research firm MDRC, last summer, we conducted a strategic review to understand what we’re doing well and where we can improve on program quality and financial strength, as a major grant expires. We are now in the process of adjusting our programs and staffing to focus on the most significant factors influencing our scholars’ ability to thrive in middle school, graduate from high school, and go on to post-secondary success. We’re referring to these changes collectively as Higher Achievement 2.0.
The vision for Higher Achievement 2.0 was developed with input from scholars, families, teachers, staff, mentors, and experts in education and youth development, and reflects the following moves:
- We’re refocusing on preparation for and placement in college preparatory high schools. With our focus on the middle grades, this is the most important benefit that Higher Achievement offers our scholars on the road to post-secondary success. To focus on high school preparedness and placement, we are making the shifts described below, which will accelerate academic and social emotional skill-building, engage families, and ensure that scholars are well-placed and succeed in the critical 9th grade transition.
- We’re expanding Afterschool Academy with more time and more rigor. This is the component of our model that the research1 has proven drives scholar outcomes. We’re deepening our focus on high school placement and success. We’re adding seven more weeks to the program, including starting earlier in the school year, and a fourth day to the three we typically have now. Families are eager for these additional days and weeks of service. We have recently implemented a new, hands-on mentoring curriculum in STEM and Humanities, with intentional social emotional skill-building. Study Hall is being redesigned and will feature both more intentional homework help and academic skill-building.
- We’re redesigning Summer Academy. Tentatively called Summer Link, this program will allow us to create space and structure for individual meetings with all scholars and families, with a focus on intentional high school planning and placement work; we will continue to provide college visits. We will also provide resources to help families enroll in other summer-long programs with strong track records, including a multi-city strategic partnership with BellXcel’s Power Scholars Program, delivered by the YMCA. This program is best-in-class for summer learning, and they will also refer additional students to Higher Achievement for Afterschool Academy.
- We’re doubling down on our Mid-Atlantic cities, where the need for our work is great, and where we can make a substantial impact. Our programs in the DC metro area (including Alexandria and Prince George’s County), Richmond, and Baltimore have been highly successful. To focus on our new initiatives, we’re finding a new home for our small program in Pittsburgh, which has struggled to serve a critical mass of scholars for several years, while ensuring our scholars there continue to receive high-quality service.
- We’ve unified our distributed staff to share resources and responsibilities more effectively while simplifying many of our processes. This is a major change for us. We’ve added new positions, changed others, and some have ended.
- We will build a 9th grade transition program, starting in 2021, to support the critical transition into high school. Applying research from the Chicago Consortium of School Research and other sources, this program will support the social, emotional, and academic needs of our scholars in their first year of high school placement, so that it will pay off long-term. Once developed and tested, we look forward to sharing this model with our peers.
We are dedicated to the success of the communities we serve, and these changes will equip us to serve more scholars and serve them better. Higher Achievement 2.0 will be even stronger, and the total hours of program dosage will remain constant – at approximately 500 hours per year.
Over 44 years, we have changed the lives of tens of thousands of scholars and families. Part of that success has been a flexibility to adapt to their changing needs and the changing environment. We know our strengths and we’re building on them, while meeting our challenges with bold moves and agility. The best of Higher Achievement still lies ahead.
Thank you again for everything you do for Higher Achievement.
Lynsey Wood Jeffries
CEO, Higher Achievement
 MDRC Implementation study in 2018 to be published in 2020 and RCT of academic outcomes in summer 2010.