Connecticut RISE Network 2020 Annual Report

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Dear Friends and Partners, A year ago, we looked forward to 2020 being a transformative year for the RISE Network. As we prepared to expand the network to include 10 high schools across nine districts, serving over 14,000 young people, we embraced opportunities to learn from partners, scale effective practices, and increase our student impact. We did not, however, anticipate this period of planned growth would coincide with a global pandemic and so many profound disruptions to our education system. Importantly, 2020 has also challenged all of us to confront and address societal inequities that continue to marginalize our most vulnerable students and neighbors. For example, COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting low-income families and people of color, widening opportunity gaps that already exist for our students. Students and families are facing new health concerns, increased unemployment, housing instability, and food insecurity. At the same time, educators are grappling with how to reimagine student support and schooling in virtual and hybrid formats. Amidst challenges and uncertainty, RISE high schools are moving forward




Amidst challenges and uncertainty, RISE high schools are moving forward with steadfast determination and an unwavering commitment to student success. Together, RISE students, families, and educators are still rising. with steadfast determination and an unwavering commitment to student success. Together, RISE students, families, and educators are still rising. This past year has showcased the power and resiliency of our school and RISE Network communities. RISE educators have embraced new formats for hybrid and remote instruction, students continue to show up and remain engaged despite myriad obstacles, families have taken on new roles to support learning outside of

Barbara Dalio Co-Founder and Board Chair

school, and administrators are rapidly adapting policies and structures to meet the needs of students, families, and educators. Through it all, we are leaning on one another as RISE Network partners who consistently rise to the occasion and prove that obstacles are also opportunities to address inequities and pursue better outcomes. In times of challenge, we press forward and we seek to learn, grow, and improve. Our students deserve nothing less. Together, we are still innovating, still learning, and still driving toward excellent student outcomes. Most importantly, we are still rising! The challenges and opportunities presented by 2020 leave us even more determined to help all students realize and achieve their full potential. Together, we are still rising!

Emily Pallin Co-Founder and Executive Director


Table of Contents Scaling our Strategies................................................................................................................4 Embracing the Moment............................................................................................................10 Prioritizing Equity.....................................................................................................................14 Acknowledgements...................................................................................................................16 Financials..................................................................................................................................17 Together, We Rise......................................................................................................................18



Scaling Our Strategies Every Connecticut high school student deserves an excellent high school education and the opportunity for postsecondary success. Each day, in high schools across the state, students and educators demonstrate tremendous dedication and creativity as they pursue high school success and college and career readiness. However, persistent opportunity gaps disadvantage lowincome students, Black and Latinx students, English learners, and students with special needs. By 2025, more than 70% of Connecticut’s jobs will require education beyond high school. The COVID-19 pandemic further reveals how gaps in educational opportunity lead to inequities in career and economic prospects, as individuals without a high school diploma experienced more than twice the unemployment rates during the



pandemic as those who had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.1 RISE partners with educators across Connecticut who are deeply committed to improving educational outcomes for low-income and underrepresented high school students. RISE empowers school communities to improve through shared strategies to ensure that every Connecticut high school student has the opportunity to keep reaching for and achieving their goals. By building a community of educators and students that works together to achieve shared goals in support of student success, RISE creates lasting and scalable impact. RISE NETWORK 2020 ANNUAL REPORT

In Connecticut:


of low-income students graduate from high school within four years.

1 in 5

low-income high school graduates will earn a postsecondary degree within six years of graduating from high school, compared to roughly half of their more affluent peers.

RISE by 5 Strategies High school is a pivotal time for all students, particularly the key moments of transition that have an outsized impact on a student’s future. RISE high schools pursue five shared strategies to promote student engagement, on-track achievement, and college and career readiness. The RISE by 5 network-wide strategies support students through every stage of their high school experience.

Summer transition programs offer opportunities to help students navigate transitions to high school and beyond, form strong relationships, and gain confidence and skills to achieve their goals.

On-track coaching opportunities engage all students in one-on-one conferences. On-Track Coordinators support freshmen through personalized and data-driven coaching.

On-track data teams support educators with information, tools, and resources to leverage their expertise for the benefit of all students. Collaborative team structures help schools meet the holistic needs of every student.

College and career supports build a culture of college success through meaningful opportunities in Grades 9-12 for students to pursue their college and career goals.

Educator-inspired innovations receive support from the RISE Educator Advisory Council and Innovation Fund, empowering educators to pinpoint needs, pilot ideas, and promote promising practices through collaboration.




Summer Transition Programs All 10 RISE high schools implement summer bridge programs to provide rising Grade 9 students with the tools to excel academically and become familiar with their high school building and community.

Leading as a Network School leaders consistently rise to meet the demands of their critical, but too often isolated, roles as champions for their staff and students. 6


At Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, On-Track Coordinators leading “High School 101” sessions focused on getting rising Grade 9 students used to being in a classroom setting again. “This orientation made me feel so prepared and less nervous. I learned about the credits and it made me realize how important a lot of things are in high school,” a McMahon rising Grade 9 student said. “Also [I learned about] attendance. I had an idea of it but now I know I need to try my best. The tour was also very helpful, I would always be nervous about getting lost, but now that I have an idea of the school it’s very helpful. The staff is super nice, which is really good, and they’re fun!”

In 2020, new RISE partners launched their first Grade 9 summer bridge programs, adapting them to emphasize building relationships and community after six months of remote learning.

This orientation made me feel so prepared and less nervous. It made me realize how important a lot of things are in high school. Grade 9 Student, Brien McMahon High School

Building on the success of Grade 9 summer bridge programs, schools across the RISE Network have also expanded their summer programming to reach upperclassmen, ensuring all high school students graduate with a well-matched and personalized postsecondary plan.

support to help students refine their college essays in addition to reviewing other parts of the college application process and to expand enrollment from 45 students in Grade 12 to 241 students in Grades 11 and 12.

In their first year as RISE partners, Middletown High School expanded their summer college preparation program by increasing staffing from one school counselor to five counselors and three English teachers. This expanded program allowed the school to provide targeted

As a network, RISE provides school leaders with unique opportunities to access resources and a community of fellow leaders they can lean on and draw inspiration from to bring back to their school communities. When Naugatuck High School joined the network in the 2019-20 school year, Principal John Harris leapt at the opportunity to use the resources and technical support that the network provides to strengthen his school’s fundamental practices for everything from grading to building systems for Grade 9 teams. “We were able to learn quickly from RISE what’s worked in other schools and adapt those practices to Naugatuck,” Principal Harris said. “Knowing that you’re not alone and that other schools across the network are learning and trying similar things makes it easier to approach complex problems like grading.” As Principal Kiaundra Smith began her first year leading Hartford Public High School, the school was starting its fourth year as a RISE partner. She

“In a year full of uncertainty and concerns about social-emotional health, connecting with students is our #1 goal,” said Bobbi-Jo Wathen, School Counselor at Middletown High School. “At the end of just one week I engaged with 286 students before school even started.”

found RISE’s focus on collaborating and using data invaluable as she helped her school navigate an important period of transition. “Having support from the network was critical during a time when we were rethinking and rebuilding the vision for our school,” Principal Smith said. “RISE has built our team’s capacity to use data to inform decisions and expand our efforts to ensure students are on-track for graduation. This led to an increase in our freshman on-track rates and improved systems to address student engagement.”

“The most valuable parts of the RISE partnership are the ongoing learning and ability to collaborate with peers from other districts across the state.”

John Harris, Principal, Naugatuck High School


Growing Our Impact As the RISE Network expanded, we embraced the opportunity to learn from new partners and scale our impact across the state. In 2019-20, we expanded the network to 10 high schools serving over 14,000 youth. Educators from Manchester, Middletown, Naugatuck, Brien McMahon and Westhill high schools joined a group of educators from East Hartford, Maloney, Platt, Career, and Hartford Public high schools who co-founded the RISE Network in 2015.

on the importance of Grade 9 ontrack and the effects of attendance on student achievement, and we are currently exploring research questions around college selection and enrollment as we work to deepen our college and career access efforts.

We also invested in building on what we’ve learned to strengthen the network’s support for educators and students. For example, we launched an online portal that includes over 115 open-source resources for educators aligned to the RISE by 5 strategies, including strategy guides that provide comprehensive information for how to adapt and implement initiatives like On-Track Conferences and College Visits.

As a result of these efforts, we are engaging more educators and students in deeper, more effective ways to improve student outcomes and expand access to resources and opportunities.

This year, we kicked off a research agenda that uses data and applied research to pursue research questions that allow us to tailor our strategies to better serve all students. We’ve published research



As a network, RISE educators and partners have:*

Improved On-Track Achievement

Increased College Readiness

Improved Graduation Rates

Increased College Access Rates

By 20 percentage points

By 9 percentage points

By 8 percentage points

By 14 percentage points

Grade 9 on-track rates are up 20 points from 64% to 84%. Grade 9 on-track status is the best predictor — more so than test scores, family income, race/ethnicity — of on-time graduation.

College readiness in Grades 9 through 12 is up 8 points from 26% to 34%. High school GPA (B’s or better or > 3.0) is one of the strongest predictors of college enrollment and completion.

Four-year high school graduation rates are up 9 points. Graduation rates have increased from 78% to 87%. Meanwhile, statewide graduation rates have remained relatively flat.

More students are accessing college opportunities. FAFSA completion rates are up 14 points from 51% to 65%. FAFSA unlocks resources to make college a more attainable option.

*Data represents 4- and 5-year gains (depending on data availability) for initial founding partner high schools.

A Statewide Approach The RISE Network partners with 10 schools in 9 districts across Connecticut, supporting over 1,300 educators and serving over 14,000 students. Brien McMahon High School, Norwalk Public Schools East Hartford High School, East Hartford Public Schools Francis T. Maloney High School, Meriden Public Schools Hartford Public High School, Hartford Public Schools Hill Regional Career High School, New Haven Public Schools Manchester High School, Manchester Public Schools Middletown High School, Middletown Public Schools Naugatuck High School, Naugatuck Public Schools Orville H. Platt High School, Meriden Public Schools Westhill High School, Stamford Public Schools



Embracing the Moment The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years in profound ways. Since school closures began in early March 2020, RISE educators and school communities have quickly adapted to a new and evolving context. In early March, schools reacted to and triaged around basic needs. Then, educators responded by developing plans to facilitate distance learning. And now, looking ahead to a still uncertain future, we as a network have come together to understand how these experiences

Network Build a cross-district community to advance shared goals and scale results.

must challenge us to collaborate with and support one another to meet the opportunities and challenges of this unprecedented moment. Consistently over these past months, we’ve seen the power and potential of the RISE Network community. We’re struck by the strength and resilience of creating a community built and driven by educators.

RISE brings together teachers, counselors, and administrators working in different contexts to help ensure that every Connecticut high school student graduates ready for postsecondary success. As a collaborative improvement network, we come together to pursue opportunities for innovation and improvement at three levels:



Expand access to resources and information to promote educator-led innovation.

Align personalized supports to critical moments in the high school experience.

Our approach to providing personalized student support, empowering educators with resources and information, and facilitating cross-school collaboration has enabled us to rise to meet this moment as a network, as RISE educators, and as RISE students. 10


Embracing Network Learning & Collaboration RISE educators benefit from opportunities to learn with and from one another. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, virtual RISE Network gatherings convened more than 200 educators. These optional virtual professional learning opportunities offered teachers, counselors, and administrators across the RISE Network time and space to reflect, plan, and collaborate. Together, educators shared their experiences and reflections, learned from one another, and collaborated around how we can move forward as partners.



Summer 2020 sessions brought together educators from all 10 RISE high schools to reflect on the 2019-20 school year, including COVID-19 school closures. We focused on how these unprecedented experiences can and should improve education for years to come, identifying 10 big ideas for reimagining education and transforming systems to achieve lasting change.

Summer melt and summer bridge collaborative calls brought together educators in similar roles who are building new and reimagined support systems for students transitioning to and beyond high school. In the fall, cross-school planning calls turned to sharing ways educators could adapt RISE by 5 strategies like on-track conferences to hybrid or remote settings.



Biweekly principal collaboratives and monthly calls between educators with similar roles, including On-Track Coordinators, Grade 9 administrators, teachers, and on-track data team teacher leaders, showed how educators can support one another to navigate complicated and ever-changing circumstances.

Almost 80 educators read and discussed author Joe Feldman’s book, Grading for Equity, in a series of three book club conversations that have led to ongoing experimentation and learning opportunities. Participating educators learned about and grappled with how their own grading policies and practices can hinder or help promote student learning, agency, and skill development.

A great breath of fresh air in an otherwise tough summer. Helped to remind me of what my role as a leader should really be focused on. – Westhill Educator

It was very helpful to discuss our responses and realize we are all in this together. – Hartford Educator

I felt it was very eye opening to speak with other teachers in different districts. I think it was valuable to talk about the reasoning behind grades and what each of us feels is the purpose of grading. – Naugatuck Educator



Embracing Educator Innovation Faced with school building closures and hybrid learning schedules, educators demonstrated tremendous creativity to provide an engaging, supportive learning environment despite the pandemic’s challenges.

Embracing Student Leadership While school buildings were closed, educators and students across the network found creative ways to celebrate the Class of 2020’s high school accomplishments and postsecondary plans. 12


project to provide stress relief kits to her students during the height of the pandemic in the spring. The kits not only provided students with resources to help them adapt to learning at home, they also provided a way for Ms. Curran and

As schools reopened in the fall, educators continued to find creative ways to bridge classroom and athome learning. Brien McMahon High School Marine Science and Marine Biology teacher Eva Bartush used the Innovation Fund

Regardless of whether students chose in-person or remote learning, I wanted them to have the same experience.” — Eva Bartush, Teacher, Brien McMahon High School

educators with match funding to pursue creative ideas to support students’ success in and beyond high school. This year, educators used the Innovation Fund in ways that creatively address the unique challenges posed by the pandemic. Kaitlyn Curran, a Grade 9 English Teacher at Hartford Public High School, successfully created a

Each year, seniors across the RISE Network look forward to Senior Signing Day celebrations, and this year students themselves ensured the postsecondary celebrations continued virtually. Seniors at Platt High School and Maloney High School in Meriden took to social media to keep their communities connected and mark these important milestones. Maloney High School seniors Chukwuebuka Akubilo and Ally Wodarski and Platt High School seniors Aiden Annino and Sydney Bernier created Instagram pages for their classmates to share what they will be doing after high school. Seniors shared their postsecondary plans (e.g., joining the military, entering the workforce, enrolling in college), the major they’re interested in, their name, and a photo.

her students to connect safely offline. After dropping off the kits at her students’ homes, Ms. Curran commented, “For my students, this was a bright spot in their time at home. I was able to wave through windows and doorways and let them know that even though we aren’t together every day, they are still in my mind and heart.”

Educators consistently have new ideas for their classrooms but may not have access to resources to bring those ideas to fruition. Through a partnership with DonorsChoose and Dalio Education, the RISE Educator Innovation Fund provides

to provide all remote students with home aquaponics sets complete with fish and plants, ensuring all students remain engaged in hands-on learning. “Regardless of whether students chose inperson or remote learning, I wanted them to have the same experience,” Mrs. Bartush said.

The students’ social media initiative provided hope and encouragement during a challenging time and re-established a sense of community, according to Sydney, who plans to major in political science with a focus in human rights at Quinnipiac University. “Coming together to provide comfort and support to one another has become second nature,” Sydney said. “This situation has especially brought the Class of 2020 together as we are all working toward the same goal of making our senior year as memorable as possible.”



Prioritizing Equity This year leaves us even more committed to promoting equity and addressing systemic racism to ensure all students receive the education they deserve.

The RISE Network seeks to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) through our work internally and in partnership with network schools and districts. DEI is integral to our mission, given that we want all students to realize and achieve their full potential, regardless of family income, zip code, race/ ethnicity, or any other factors. We are committed to closing long-standing opportunity gaps in Connecticut. These goals require us to think deeply about DEI as an organization and through our work with students, educators, and school partners. We are committed to continued growth and development as a team and with our partners to advance DEI principles as an organization and network.



DEI values and beliefs are a part of our daily work. RISE strives to embody the following commitments and uses them to inform our collaboration with network partners: Diversity



by inviting people with different identities and experiences into the work of equalizing educational quality and opportunities in urban public high schools in Connecticut.

by aligning resources so that staff and network partners are empowered to create systemic change leading to better student outcomes.

by creating a space for staff and network partners to speak and act authentically.

We recognize the unique talents and needs of every student, educator, and school, and we differentiate supports to close opportunity gaps and help all students succeed.

Expanding Access to Opportunity through Better College Match Every year, a large proportion of students undermatch in the college admissions process. Undermatching occurs when high-achieving students, often from underrepresented backgrounds, do not pursue enrollment in a competitive college even when they meet admissions criteria. Too often, highly-qualified students attend open-access colleges or choose not to attend college at all. Undermatching not only affects the future academic and career opportunities for individual students who show tremendous potential but also perpetuates broader social and economic inequities. RISE Network educators use data to inform how they help students gain access to wellmatched colleges and develop meaningful and personalized postsecondary plans. Last spring, educators used data to identify high-achieving Grade 11 students that were eligible to apply to a summer program meant to jumpstart students with their college applications and prepare them for QuestBridge’s National College Match program. QuestBridge helps students match with highly-selective colleges, providing students with a full scholarship and supplemental services that help students transition smoothly to their matched university. After participating in information sessions and receiving application support from her school counselors, one East Hartford High School student, Tahlea, participated in the Grade 11


A data-informed, personalized approach to student support can help students gain access to opportunities that societal inequity and systemic barriers might otherwise keep out of reach. summer program during which she received extra college application advice and resources. At the start of her senior year, Tahlea applied for and became a National College Match Finalist and was matched at University of Pennsylvania, receiving a full scholarship to attend for the following fall. Tahlea’s story illustrates how a data-informed, personalized approach to student support can help students gain access to opportunities that societal inequity and systemic barriers might otherwise keep out of reach.




We are deeply grateful for our philanthropic supporters’ generosity and partnership as we work together to help all students achieve success. We appreciate their leadership and all that they do in service of Connecticut communities, students, and educators. Dalio Education Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Collective Impact Opportunity Fund at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation: BeFoundation The Ritter Family Foundation Per & Astrid Heidenreich Family Foundation Goodnow Fund

With gratitude, we recognize the contributions of the RISE Board of Directors, whose stewardship and steadfast commitment to student success guide us as we work collectively to advance our mission.


Barbara Dalio, Chair

Erin Benham

Rodgers Harper, Treasurer

Natalie Gordon

Garth Harries, Secretary

Indra Nooyi



Unaudited Financials for Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2020


Support and Revenue

Contributions: In-Kind Contributions: Interest Income:

Operating Expenses

$5,073,262 $17,032 $2,028

Total Support and Revenue: $5,092,322

Program Services: Management and General: Fundraising:

$3,444,139 $529,614 $76,492

Total Operating Expenses:


85% of contributions go directly towards supporting program services.



Together, We RISE We can do more for young people when we work as a team. Join us as we make a difference for thousands of Connecticut youth. Together, we can and will help all students realize and achieve their full potential.

Pursuing New Possibilities In a year where little seemed to go according to plan, RISE students continue to dream big and work to achieve their goals. We spoke to RISE students who are just starting out on their high school experiences about what they hope to achieve during high school and how the support they receive from RISE educators can help them get there. 18


G E T I N V O LV E D :




to RISE, helping us increase our impact in support of students, educators, and public high schools in Connecticut.

our resource portal at, where you can access actionable ideas and tools for improving student engagement, on-track achievement, and postsecondary outcomes.

with us by signing up for our quarterly newsletter at and by following us on Twitter @ctrisenetwork to stay up to date on our latest news, photos, and videos.

My goals for high school are to graduate and stay on top of my grades. I have people in my family who have not graduated and are working hard for me to succeed. My mother had me at 15 so she dropped out of school. She made a way for me so it is important that I succeed.” –Tyao, Grade 9 Westhill High School

I want to pass my classes and learn how to improve my work ethic and study habits because I want to go to college.” –Phillip, Grade 9 Hill Regional Career High School

During high school I want to make honors and get better at speaking English. Because of the language barrier, I feel that I have to work ten times harder to stay up to date with my work. It helps that some of my teachers have made a strong effort to help me learn some vocabulary words to help improve my English.”

I want to graduate high school so I can go to college and prepare for my career.” –Yameily, Grade 9 Hill Regional Career High School

My two goals for high school are to be able to graduate and to have good grades. This is important to me because I know my parents want to see me be successful in life.” –Djawaad, Grade 9 Hill Regional Career High School

–Edwin, Grade 9 Westhill High School



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