Connecticut RISE Network 2021 Annual Report

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LETTER FROM THE CO-FOUNDERS Dear Friends and Partners, This past year presented unique highs and lows, breakthroughs and setbacks, and challenges and opportunities. Despite these twists and turns amidst the ongoing pandemic, the drive and determination of RISE staff, students, caregivers, and partners remained on full display, including through record levels of educator engagement and creative new innovations. In the midst of another school year against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, we remain fully committed to our mission: ensuring all students graduate with a plan and the skills and confidence to achieve college and career success. The pandemic has underscored and exacerbated opportunity gaps in our state, and shined a light on the value of an excellent education. This makes our work through the RISE Network all the more crucial for the school communities, students, and families we serve. As we reflect on where we’ve been and look forward to the work ahead, we commit to raising our sights through deeper impact and innovation at scale. We continue pursuing deeper impact across our core eight partner districts and nine partner high schools, particularly as schools and districts across the state and country seek to build back from the pandemic. We are also embracing opportunities to scale our impact in additional school communities, striving to share learnings and promising practices to impact additional high school students around the region.

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“” As we reflect on where we’ve been and look forward to the work ahead, we commit to raising our sights through deeper impact and innovation at scale. Despite the unpredictable nature of this past year, the RISE Network community remained laser-focused on our two north star impact areas. We work as a statewide community to promote strong transitions into high school, supporting Grade 9 on-track and freshman success, and we also commit to preparing all students for college and career success.

Despite its ups and downs, this past year included exciting progress for the RISE Network. We are proud of our efforts to pursue deeper impact, equitable access and student outcomes, and a sustainable organizational model, and we celebrate the RISE students, families, and educators whose dedication and talent raise the bar for all of us.

Our mission is to ensure all RISE high school students graduate with a plan and the skills and confidence to achieve college and career success. We partner with Connecticut public high schools to lead statewide networks where school communities work together to use data to learn and improve.

Barbara Dalio Co-Founder and Board Chair

Table of Contents

Emily Pallin Co-Founder and Executive Director

Breaking down Boundaries


Building with our Core Network


Adapting through Innovation and Collaboration


Exploring New Horizons


Expressing Gratitude for our Supporters




RISE in their Words


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Breaking Down Boundaries

Advancing Shared Goals

For far too long, persistent opportunity gaps have disadvantaged Connecticut’s low-income students, Black and Latinx students, English learners, and students with special needs.

During a time when so many schools and districts across the state and country saw nearly universal learning loss, it is encouraging to see bright spots within the RISE Network. After all, we know that for the 13,000 students across the RISE Network, this is their one shot at an excellent high school experience. We owe it to all of our RISE high school students -- pandemic or not -- to ensure we are delivering on the promise of an excellent and enriching education that unlocks opportunities for postsecondary success. As a network, RISE educators and partners have:

RISE high schools work together to disrupt multigenerational opportunity gaps by ensuring all students experience success as they transition to, through, and beyond high school. For us, this work begins as students transition between middle school and high school. We focus on freshman success because research shows that Grade 9 ontrack achievement (i.e., whether

a student earns enough credits to promote on time to sophomore year) is the single best predictor of whether a student will graduate from high school within four years -- more so than test scores, family income, or race/ethnicity. 1 However, it’s not enough for students to obtain a high school diploma; students must graduate from high school with a well-matched

We focus on freshman success because research shows that Grade 9 on-track achievement (i.e., whether a student earns enough credits to promote on time to sophomore year) is the single best predictor of whether a student will graduate from high school within four years. RISE partners with educators across Connecticut who are deeply committed to improving educational outcomes for low-income and underrepresented high school students. By building a community of educators and students that work together to achieve shared goals in support of student success, RISE pushes beyond the boundaries of what education has been to realize a vision for what school communities could and should be. | 3

postsecondary plan and the skills and confidence to achieve their college and career goals. While 70 percent of Connecticut jobs require some education beyond a high school diploma, only 20 percent of low-income high school graduates in Connecticut will go on to earn a postsecondary degree within six years of graduating from high school.2,3

Increased College and Career Readiness.

Improved Systems for Cross-School Collaboration.

Achieved Recognition for Grade 9 On-Track Achievement.

College and career readiness in Grades 9 through 12 is up 10 percentage points from 25 percent to 35 percent over a seven year period. High school GPA (Bs or better or > 3.0) is one of the strongest predictors of college enrollment and completion.

100% of RISE educators surveyed report that their participation in the RISE Network has enabled them to dive deeper into relevant pressing issues, create new peer-topeer connections, and share information, best practices, resources and new tools.

In 2021, the RISE Network was one of two organizations nationally to receive the Carnegie Foundation’s annual Spotlight on Quality in Continuous Improvement as recognition for RISE’s “work in generating demonstrable improvement of 9th grade on-track achievement and four-year graduation rates for students of color and students from low-income families.”4


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

Only one in five low-income high school graduates will earn a post-secondary degree within six years of graduating from high school, compared to roughly half of their higher income peers.

[The RISE Network’s] improvement efforts have demonstrated significant improvement in grade 9 ontrack achievement and four-year graduation rates for marginalized students in their state. The first year of high school is a critical transition point for students and a valuable predictor of students’ success in high school, so by focusing their improvement work on 9th grade, the CT RISE Network is disrupting long time multigenerational opportunity gaps. Anthony Bryk Former President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching


What Matters for Staying On-Track, Elaine Allensworth, University of Chicago. Workforce Strategic Plan 2020, Governor’s Workforce Strategic Council Connecticut. 3 StudentTracker for High Schools Demographics Report for CSBE, National Student Clearinghouse. 4 Spotlight on Quality in Continuous Improvement, Carnegie Foundation for Teaching and Learning. 2

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Building with Our Core Network

Pursuing the RISE by 5 Focus Areas

Through our core network, we partner with nine public high schools across eight school districts in Connecticut. RISE high schools serve over 13,000 students and represent over 1,200 educators. Together, RISE partners work together across schools and districts to pinpoint needs, pursue new innovations, and scale promising practices. When we first launched RISE, each partner school experimented with different researchbased and data-informed programs and practices, which helped us learn more about what worked under specific conditions. This led RISE partners to formally adopt five network-wide focus areas in 2017 — the RISE by 5 framework — to increase on-track achievement and postsecondary readiness. RISE by 5 was informed by national research, local data, student voice, and educator expertise.

Over time, the RISE by 5 strategies have evolved. For example, our initial set of strategies focused heavily on freshman success and Grade 9 interventions. As RISE has grown, our work together as a network has taken on a schoolwide approach with increasing emphasis around college and career readiness, access, and success. We launched the network five years ago, and as we look ahead to the next five years, we are excited to update the RISE by 5 framework to better reflect what we do, what we’re learning, and where we’re headed.

Together, RISE partners work together across schools and districts to pinpoint needs, pursue new innovations, and scale promising practices.

Collaborating for Statewide Impact Our core network partners include:


RISE high schools work across five focus areas to promote high school and postsecondary success. The RISE by 5 focus areas support innovation and improvement at the network, school, educator team, individual educator, and student levels. Importantly, each RISE high school pursues the RISE by 5 framework in unique ways to reflect local context and priorities, and variation across schools supports continued learning as a network community.




School communities share a singular focus on results. Educators, students, and families work together to keep freshman success, on-track achievement, and college and career readiness at the forefront.

Students benefit from targeted transition supports in Grade 9 and in preparation for postsecondary pathways. These supports invest in critical moments, key staff, and focused student subgroups.

Teams engage in studentscentered team meetings, leveraging data tools, protocols, and educator expertise to take a holistic approach to meet individual needs of all 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 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



Educators receive coaching, resources, and support to invest in educators as professionals, pursuing evidence-based ideas to create more rigorous, engaging, and inclusive classroom and school environments.

Network partners come together across schools to learn, grow, and improve. Teachers, counselors, and administrators share successes, challenges, and ideas to advance our shared goals and collective impact.

Westhill High School, Stamford Public Schools

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RISE by 5 Spotlight: Zooming in on Targeted Transition Supports

Application Campaigns to Promote Postsecondary Success

As a network, we invest in key moments of transition that have a significant impact on students’ long-term outcomes.

RISE partner schools are committed to preparing students for what comes after high school. Through our shared mission, RISE works to ensure all students not only graduate from high school, but have a meaningful postsecondary plan and the skills and confidence to pursue college and career success. But it’s not that simple! The postsecondary application process can be daunting and overwhelming for students, families, and counselors with so many complex steps and application milestones.

On-Track Coaches to Support Freshman Success Jamie Meurer joined the RISE team five years ago as one of the first On-Track Coaches (OTC) at Hartford Public High School (HPHS). In taking on the OTC role after previously supporting youth on probation, Ms. Meurer reflected, “I really wanted to get into a position where I could move more toward prevention instead of intervention. There are so many missed opportunities and prevention is worth so much. I really wanted to get into a school and get ahead of the issues I had been seeing.”5 RISE high schools created the OTC role in response to student needs and research showing that far too many students experience challenges when they make the transition to high school. As Ms. Meurer’s OTC colleague at HPHS, Daemond Benjamin, describes, “I work with ninth graders because we know the transition from eighth grade to ninth grade is a hard transition.” | 7

RISE partner schools pursue evidence-based strategies to promote strong middle-to-high-school and postsecondary transitions. The On-Track Coach role and application campaigns offer two examples of how we invest in critical transitions during students’ freshman and senior years.

Despite the importance of freshman year, high schools across the country are generally not staffed to support the unique needs of freshmen. In Connecticut, the average studentto-counselor ratio is 349:1, and these large caseloads too often limit counseling support for freshmen.6 As youth development professionals, OTCs serve as champions and advocates for a targeted group of 60 Grade 9 students. This focused approach allows OTCs to provide deep and sustained support for students who may need additional guidance.

Lavender, a student at HPHS, reflects on the important role her OTC played, particularly during the pandemic. “It was a big help,” Lavender said. “Because if I couldn’t contact my teachers, I could contact Ms. Jamie or my counselor. So it was a really big help for me.” Through it all, Mr. Benjamin summarizes the commitment and determination of OTCs across the network: “I’m going to take the kids to the moon if I can.”

As full-time members of the high school staff, OTCs play an integral role supporting students who have had attendance, academic, social, and/or behavioral difficulties in middle school. Mr. Benjamin describes how, “Every day is different.” Ms. Meurer explains, “I feel like some days I’m a cheerleader, some days I feel like I’m a resource guide or a mentor. Each relationship with each of the kids on our caseload is very different; each of our kids needs something different from us.”


Adapted from an interview with Daemond Benjamin and Jamie Meurer, Storycorps. 6 Student-to-School-Counselor Ratio 2020-2021, ASCA.

RISE partner high schools work together to ensure all students establish goals, and then schools organize application campaigns to support and track student progress relative to key access milestones. For example, students planning to enroll in a trade/technical program or two/four-year college, must submit an application and should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Explaining the experience from a student’s perspective, Roja, a senior at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, said, “The biggest factor that was intimidating was getting all these steps done because you just see a large list of things that you need to do.” McMahon’s College and Career Coordinator, Ari Meadows, describes, “This is a super important time in an individual’s life. The transition out of high school, students figuring out who they are and finding themselves.”

McMahon formed a team of counselors, administrators, and teachers to work together to understand students’ plans, track student data, and provide personalized support to help students achieve their plans. Specifically, McMahon studied their data and noticed a drop in FAFSA completion rates in 2020-21 as a result of the pandemic. McMahon formed a FAFSA Task Force where staff are assigned to a specific caseload of students, and then work with their students and families to overcome barriers to completing the FAFSA. In addition to the personalized support, McMahon is celebrating students who complete the FAFSA through laptop raffles and schoolwide events, promoting a college-going culture. FAFSA completion rates so far in 2021-22 are outpacing last year’s rates by five percentage points. Roja described the support she’s received as she prepares for the postsecondary transition: “Honestly, having the support to back me up in going forward with this process was the biggest thing that gave me the assurance that I could do really well in college.”


This is a super important time in an individual’s life. The transition out of high school, students figuring out who they are and finding themselves. | 8

Adapting through Innovation and Collaboration While the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally altered the educational landscape, RISE’s approach remains relatively unchanged, and our belief in the model has reached new heights. Prior to the pandemic, we had built skills as a networked improvement community to innovate and respond to specific needs and growth opportunities. While the pandemic presented multiple waves of new challenges and complexities, our community was uniquely poised to rise to the occasion. RISE’s core approach -- working together to use data to improve -- served us well in this time of crisis and uncertainty.

Deeper Collaboration While public health conditions prevented us from engaging in regular RISE in-person gatherings and cross-district convenings this past year, the network learning community proved even more important and vibrant than ever before. Prior to the pandemic, educators engaged in back-to-school, fall, and springtime in-person convenings. During the pandemic, we shifted to virtual forms of collaboration and saw an increased

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demand for time together as a community to collaborate, process, and share successes and challenges. RISE launched new monthly role-alike collaboratives for school principals, Grade 9 leaders, On-Track Coaches, and college and career leaders. Additionally, educators engaged in virtual convenings and keynotes. In total, over 300 RISE educators engaged in network learning and collaborative activities last year.

Innovative Approaches to RISE by 5 In addition to deeper forms of network collaboration, RISE partners are continuing the RISE by 5 strategies and adapting these approaches to align with changing health conditions and student needs. Rather than abandoning these strategies when schools shifted to hybrid and remote instruction, school teams looked to innovate. Educators are invested in the RISE by 5 strategies and know they work, so the question became how to deliver these supports in remote and socially distanced settings.

As one example, educator data teams continued to meet through Zoom, and those crossdepartmental meets served as a lifeline for educators navigating new challenges. One educator reflected, “Having our weekly data team meetings was the only constant thing about this year. It almost felt like a safe space, where we gathered as a team, and worked through challenges together, to get our students back on track.” As another example, we know that students benefit from personalized goal-setting conversations, and one-on-one on-track conferences have become a quarterly tradition in RISE high schools. In 2020-21, nearly 40% of RISE high school students engaged in remote learning, so these in-person conferences required a new approach. Educators continued the practice by offering virtual and socially distanced conferences. In preparation for the 2021-22 school year, schools also offered creative summer programming to help students prepare for the return back to school through Grade 9 Summer Bridge and College Prep Academy programs. In 2021, hundreds of students took time out of their summer vacations to prioritize their future. Diana, a freshman at Westhill High School in Stamford, said the experience of the Summer Bridge program allowed her to understand what was to be expected of her in the school year.

“I felt really comfortable on the first day of school,” said Diana. “It motivated me. I understood the workload when I got here.” “They walk with confidence. They are not lost,” said Khanisha Moore, an On Track Coordinator at Westhill High School, talking about students who were able to attend Westhill’s Summer Bridge program. “They are willing to embrace the school because they have that familiarity. For me, it is more about the connection being built.”

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Exploring New Horizons Building on our early learnings from our core network partnerships, in 2021 RISE launched efforts to extend and deepen our impact through research dissemination and strategic partnerships with schools across the state and region.


Facilitating a New Freshman Success Network with Hartford Public Schools In Hartford, four high schools have partnered with the RISE Network to scale freshman success strategies across the district, with the goal of improving Grade 9 on-track achievement.

with RISE staff, and monthly cross-school collaborative learning sessions. Grade 9 teams are pursuing new strategies to help all students successfully transition to, through, and beyond high school.

The partnership, facilitated by the RISE Network, between Weaver High School, Bulkeley High School, Richard J. Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts, and Hartford Public High School, has seen first-time Grade 9 students passing 6 or more classes rise from 66 percent in 2019-20 to 74 percent in 2020-21.

“Working with RISE has transformed the way I go about my work with the freshman team,” said Brooke Lafreniere, Principal, Bulkeley High School. “We have had huge increases in the number of students that are on track. Every teacher in the building can articulate what it means to be on track and the students can know what that means and then explain it to parents.”

For incoming freshmen, the transition to high school can be challenging. By bringing educators together to share their expertise and use data to personalize student supports, RISE collaborates with schools to ensure Grade 9 students stay on-track and earn enough credits to promote on time to Grade 10 and ultimately graduate prepared for postsecondary success. Through the partnership in Hartford, school teams engage in weekly student-centered data meetings, monthly coaching | 11

Tiffany Webley, Principal at Weaver High School, said the partnership has allowed her to strategically reach each student. “The data is one thing, but having a plan to reach each student where they are is the real tool,” said Webley. “We can look at each student and assess how we respond.”

Working with RISE has transformed the way I go about my work with the freshman team. We have had huge increases in the number of students that are on track. Every teacher in the building can articulate what it means to be on track and the students can know what that means and then explain it to parents.

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Supporting the Connecticut FAFSA Challenge Across the country, the pandemic has contributed to lower rates of college enrollment and FAFSA completion. While all students have big dreams for the future, the complexities due to COVID have led to the largest two-year decline in college enrollment seen in the last 50 years.7

“Using our networked improvement approach, RISE partnered with the state to launch an improvement community with 26 Connecticut high schools working together to promote FAFSA completion and access to higher education.”

Motivated by the troubling national data, the RISE Network kicked off a partnership with the Connecticut State Department of Education and Governor’s Office to launch the Connecticut FAFSA Challenge during the 2020-21 school year. Using our networked improvement approach, RISE partnered with the state to launch an improvement community in 2020-21 with 26 Connecticut high schools working together to promote FAFSA completion and access to higher education.

In 2020-21, RISE facilitated monthly community of practice sessions for FAFSA Challenge high schools and shared promising practices to support innovation across the FAFSA Challenge community. The collaborative approach to FAFSA campaigns inspired participating schools to try new practices within their schools. One participating educator, Gary Maratea from Platt High School, said “The key word is team. It is hard work but each completed FAFSA application is like a mini victory and feels awesome!”

The FAFSA Challenge invited schools to pursue new and innovative approaches to increase FAFSA completion, thereby supporting college affordability. By completing the FAFSA students may access thousands of dollars each year to lower the cost of college or trade/ technical programs; however, the FAFSA can be confusing. While it takes the average family less than one hour to complete the FAFSA, the application is technically complex and thousands of eligible Connecticut students fail to complete the FAFSA each year, leaving millions of dollars in unclaimed federal student aid.

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In 2020-21, schools participating in the FAFSA Challenge collectively increased their completion rates by nearly 4 percentage points, while the country’s FAFSA completion rates declined by over 4 percent relative to 2020. Additionally, 42 percent of the high schools participating in the 2021 FAFSA Challenge exceeded their 2020 FAFSA completion rates in 2021 by 5 percentage points or more.

Did You Know? 2020-21 FAFSA Chal lenge high schools improv ed FAFSA completion ra tes by nearly 4 percenta ge points, while the co untry’s FAFSA completion ra tes declined by over 4 pe rcent relative to 2020.

“Every year, we see that FAFSA completion has the power to transform lives. By completing the FAFSA, students and families can access the resources they deserve to pursue their dreams of higher education. However, we also know the FAFSA can be daunting and too many students do not complete this key access milestone,” said Emily Pallin, Executive Director of the RISE Network. “By working together as a statewide community, we are excited to once again improve FAFSA completion rates, share promising practices, and close access and opportunity gaps for all Connecticut students.” The RISE Network is continuing its partnership with the state in 202122 to extend the FAFSA Challenge to new high school communities. Now in its second year, the FAFSA Challenge offers schools individualized monthly coaching with RISE staff, as well as statewide training opportunities around the FAFSA.

gh 26 Connecticut hi schools across 16 ed districts participat FSA in the 2020-21 FA Challenge.

In its second year, 40 Connecticut high schools and 19 districts are participating in the 2021-22 FAFSA Challenge.

al the Nation o t g in d r o Acc , nt Network e m in a t t A College increases n io t le p m o FAFSA c secondary t s o p f o d o 8 the likeliho %. 4 8 y b t n e enrollm


College Enrollment Notched The Largest Two-Year Decline In 50 Years Due To Covid, CNBC. 8 National FAFSA Completion Rates For High School Seniors And Graduates, NCAN. | 14

RISE Financials, Fiscal Year 2021 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.

Support and Revenue


Dalio Education Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation BeFoundation

The Ritter Family Foundation

$148,055 $19,914

Total Support and Revenue:






Total Operating Expenses:


Per & Astrid Heidenreich Family Foundation







Investing in the Future 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. Get involved:



to RISE at, helping us, increase our

our resource portal at, where you can

impact in support of students, educators, and public high schools in Connecticut.

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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.


Operating Expenses

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RISE in their words

“During a very unusual year, being a part of the network was extremely valuable. Having access to the RISE team and our colleagues in the network to support us through constant innovation helped cultivate growth among our team and inspired us to create more effective and equitable systems for our students.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, RISE educators, students, and families have shown tremendous resilience as they have navigated new challenges and supported one another to continue learning and growing as a community. As we look back on 2021 and look to the future, RISE educators reflect on how the RISE spirit of innovation and creativity continues to shine through this unique and results-driven partnership.9

“The network provided a source of strength in a difficult and isolating time.” “I am one of the original members of the RISE Network going back 6 years. I can’t relay enough how helpful they have been. This year, like every year, they stayed focused on the needs at hand… they changed their focus to help us stay current with the issues.”

“Teaching can often feel isolating in ways and being part of this network really changed that for me. Also, this is really the first opportunity I have had in 20 years of teaching to work on an interdisciplinary team. team.” 9Quotes

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from RISE educators are excerpted from the RISE Network Health Survey, developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, administered to 54 educators in Spring 2021 by Partners for Network Improvement at the University of Pittsburgh in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Quotes were provided anonymously and do not correspond to educator photos. | 18

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