Striving for Greatness, Grounded in Inclusion

Authored By: James Morgan and Milan Harris

James Morgan
James Morgan, Managing Director of Programs

As the Managing Director of Programs, it’s my responsibility to lead the creation and rollout of our organization-wide programmatic Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs are critical because they provide Higher Achievement staff with a clear understanding of our goals, guidance on how these goals can be achieved, and why these goals drive the work. Program teams must be brought into the measures, understand their value, and be empowered to use that information to inform their own work. Last summer, I led the process to review and refine our existing KPIs and I centered this work on two of Higher Achievement’s core values: voice and inclusion and striving for greatness.

Centering voice and inclusion as we strive for greatness is not only a best practice, but one which helps create more positive program experiences and outcomes for scholars. Historically, KPIs at Higher Achievement were developed by senior program teams and then rolled out to program staff and affiliates. This approach was challenging because without program staff involvement during the planning process, KPIs were void of context and not used with any regularity. Coming into this school year, it was critical to make sure staff understood the importance of these measures but even more importantly, that these measures reflected the values and perspectives of everyone in the organization, not just senior leadership. We engaged the entire program team across all affiliates across a series of meetings to interrogate the “why” behind our KPIs. Together, we:

  • examined each KPI and discussed why we value these measures, what they tell us, and how they can help us improve programming. Based on staff feedback we added a new scholar attendance KPI to better measure how deeply we are engaging scholars throughout the year.
  • collaboratively developed goals for each KPI based on historic outcomes data. During these conversations staff shared a desire for KPIs to better reflect the unique context of their affiliate. This was especially true for our high school placement KPI, so we had each affiliate create a high school placement goal that best reflects their city’s high school landscape.

After 12 years at Higher Achievement and having been a center staff member for 6 years, I know that in order to truly strive for greatness, center staff—who go above and beyond for scholars every day—must feel valued, heard, and included in the development of goals and benchmarks that reflect their work.

Milan Harris
Milan Harris, Highlandtown Learning Director

Having each affiliate develop specific KPIs for their unique circumstances is a crucial aspect of how we can truly strive for greatness and include the voices of not only our staff, but our biggest stakeholders: our scholars and their families. As the Learning Director of the newest Higher Achievement center at Highlandtown #237, I’ve seen firsthand how not only how our affiliate is unique, but also our specific center. Highlandtown #237 is a fully bilingual center, with most of our scholars being first- or second-generation immigrants. This created a unique space for growth, development, voice, and excellence.

Highlandtown, like every single one of our centers, strives to create a safe space for our scholars based on their needs, desires, and goals. Part of that creation requires a space for our scholars to use their voice in all aspects of programming. At Highlandtown, for example, our scholars asked us to pivot our pizza party academic incentive to taco and pupusa parties. This kept them more engaged and excited during their academic block so they could earn enough scholar dollars to buy the food they wanted. We even had two of our scholars request more information on seeking educational resources on immigration for them and their families, and from there held a panel on immigration with an immigration lawyer, and two DACA recipients. Scholars are also encouraged to use their voice and challenge everything with consistent scholar feedback. Knowing that they have a voice allows our scholars to feel like center is theirs and makes them proud to be part of Higher Achievement. They know that they can be fully honest and trust that we, as program staff, will listen.

This sense of security, this knowledge that their voices matter, is what creates the safe space where greatness can truly thrive. After all, striving for greatness means making mistakes and then learning from them. It means having a space where you feel safe enough to make those mistakes and know you won’t be judged, laughed at, or ridiculed. At Highlandtown, we’ve seen many of our scholars blossom from being excruciatingly uncomfortable when speaking English to communicating with an easy fluency they don’t even have to think about. We’ve seen our scholars’ grades improving tremendously, from only 50% of scholars having A’s or B’s in math to nearly 78% having A’s or B’s by the end of the third quarter of the 2022-23 school year. We’ve seen them expertly navigate conflict and discomfort after months of impassioned emotions. We’ve seen them get into the high schools of their dreams.

Crucial to the creation of more inclusive KPIs is the implementation of intentional structures, goals, and methods in order to meet them. Center staff, scholars, and other stakeholders work hard to not only be heard, but to be listened to. We work hard to achieve excellence in all facets, to achieve our goals, and as the Higher Achievement chant goes, to go higher, because we inspire achievement, and we aspire for greatness.