UChicago’s Network for College Success deepens its work with high schools

School of Social Service Administration program receives support from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

A University of Chicago program that helps Chicago public high schools improve their student outcomes, including high school graduation and college success, is deepening its work and growing its impact across the city.

The expansion of the Network for College Success, an educational initiative at UChicago’s School of Social Service Administration, is supported by a $11.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant is part of the foundation’s commitment to help more low-income students and students of color graduate from high school and college.

“With this grant we can deepen our school partnerships and test new interventions,” said Sarah Duncan, co-executive director of the Network for College Success. “It will further enhance the support we can provide to school leaders—the one-on-one coaching, the group problem-solving sessions and detailed data reports—which are all designed to help educators facilitate change, be more effective and boost student performance.”

For more than 12 years, the Network for College Success, founded by Melissa Roderick, the Hermon Dunlap Smith Professor at SSA, has collaborated with Chicago Public Schools to directly impact the success of students in more than one hundred high schools. In just over a decade, Chicago’s high school graduation rate has improved 18 percentage points—from 57 percent in 2006 to 75 percent in 2017. The Network for College Success demonstrates the positive impacts that come from research, data and professional learning working together to make systemic changes.

The Gates Foundation grant will enable high schools through the Network for College Success to elevate achievement levels and post-secondary readiness among black, Latino and low-income students. Using a successful approach, partner schools receive leadership development training, executive coaching, and professional learning sessions that build educator capacity to engage in sustainable improvement in student outcomes. Working together, the Network for College Success and high school educators identify new strategies and apply interventions that will lead to improved graduation rates and a brighter pathway for young people aspiring to college.

The Network for College Success is one of 19 organizations across 12 states to receive funding from the Gates Foundation to create Networks for School Improvement. “Support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reinforces the impact that the Network for College Success has had on schools and the lives of Chicago’s young people,” said Deborah Gorman-Smith, dean and the Emily Klein Gidwitz Professor at the School of Social Service Administration. “We are excited to deepen our CPS collaboration and help create the conditions that let Chicago’s youth reach their full potential. This work builds on SSA’s education and research efforts to address educational inequality.”

Kevin Gallick, principal at Washington High School on Chicago’s far southeast side, has worked with the Network for College Success for 10 years, finding impressive outcomes through the program. “The change in academic performance at Washington has been dramatic, really amazing. A 20 percent increase in graduation rates. Improved test scores. We used to have 35 percent of our seniors going to college; now, 70 percent are going to college. It’s hard to imagine these gains without the Network for College Success partnership,” Gallick said.

The gains in achievement have brought a new energy into the school, Gallick added. “You can feel it in the building. Students work harder. They’re happier. We have more activities, and teachers are very involved.”

“Leadership empowerment and professionalism have been my most valuable takeaways from our Network for College Success partnership,” said Dawn Ramos, the newly appointed principal at Tilden Career Community Academy High School, which serves Chicago’s Canaryville neighborhood. “The way that the Network for College Success values the education profession continues to empower my ability and determination to work hard on behalf of my students, families and staff.”

The partnership has played a key role as Ramos has moved into Tilden’s top leadership role. “I have a coach who serves as a thought partner and mentor,” Ramos said, “She has helped me remain focused on my vision of what I want the school to achieve. Working together, we are aligning my vision to student outcomes and studying data in a way that informs the instructional work we need to do as a staff.”

For more information on the Network for College Success and their capacity-building approach, visit ncs.uchicago.edu.