Category Archives: Start Strong

Race to the Top Grant Yields Big Wins for Region’s Students, Teachers

Four years ago, Puget Sound ESD and the Road Map Region were proud to be awarded a  groundbreaking four-year, $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Our 320-page plan was among 16 winners picked from nearly 400 applications, and one of only two applicants to win the maximum award of $40 million.  We were one of only two grantees to win the maximum award of $40 million.  This is a Consortium grant, comprised of the Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, Seattle and Tukwila School Districts, with Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD) serving as the fiscal and management agent.

The Road Map Region Race to the Top grant supports students to Start Strong, be STEM Strong, and to Stay Strong.  Students are further supported with Foundational projects, personalizing learning all along the PreK through postsecondary spectrum.  We are focused particularly on students in high-need schools, who are low-income, of color, English Language Learners (ELL), or who have disabilities.  The grant supports the Road Map Project, a regional collective impact initiative with the goal of doubling the number of students on track to graduate from college or earn a career credential by 2020.

Accomplishments & Highlights

Overarching Highlights

As Year 4 comes to a close, the Road Map Region Race to the Top grant has a strong sustainability plan in place, ensuring that efforts catalyzed by this investment “stick.”  This has been a year of intentional sustainability planning.  We explicitly led this process with a racial equity lens, examining how each RTT effort impacted students of color and how communities of color were engaged in shaping programs.  Project Leads of all RTT projects wrote detailed sustainability plans identifying evidence of success, opportunity gap impact, milestones, risks and mitigation strategies.

Together with the Road Map Project, PSESD hosted a Celebration of Success event with 500 attendees, highlighting the work to close opportunity gaps and support racial equity.  Invitees included:  parent leaders; student advocates; private and public funders; media; district and community partners who have led Race to the Top programs; superintendents, school board members and union presidents from the Road Map Project districts; state, local and federal elected officials (including USED Official Venitia Richardson); higher education leaders; business leaders and community organizations and advocates.

Most importantly, for our seven districts and community partners, collective action is not over; this has only been the beginning.  Entire streams of work, catalyzed by RTT, are now integrated into PSESD and district departments, and are even called out in district Strategic Plans.  Leaders have committed to continuing collective impact initiatives to propel forward what we started with RTT, and we now have systems and structures in place to make this happen.

Start Strong

For the third year in a row, all seven districts and CBOs in the Consortium came together to lead a universal Kindergarten registration campaign in January.  Enrolling students in Kindergarten earlier in the year helps ensure they can participate in summer learning and eases student and family transition into Kindergarten.  PSESD awarded mini-grants to small community-based organizations (CBOs) and districts to collaborate to reach more families.

All seven districts now have Early Learning Advisory Teams, bridging the early learning and K-12 sectors, and engaging community leaders and parents in PreK-3rd grade systems.

STEM Strong

More than 1,000 students across five districts participated in career experiences through the Career Connection program, which connects students to employers.  Additionally, districts elevated personalized learning as a strategy to achieve instructional goals, incorporating it into Strategic Plans and creating new leadership positions to advance the work.

We made notable progress implementing Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS): the Professional Learning Community of Science Leads expanded from seven to 25 districts, and the percent of teachers who reported having been trained on NGSS increased from 48% to 60%.

Stay Strong

The region’s on-time graduation rate has increased dramatically, from 73% in 2013 to 77% in 2015.  We are also making progress on the early warning indicator for student discipline; only seven percent of 9th graders had a suspension or expulsion in 2015, a decrease from 10 percent in 2013.

Offering the SAT to all students in 11th grade during the school day yielded an increase of 178% in the numbers of students taking SAT – increases were even higher for students of color.  We also continued to see a close to 100% enrollment rate in the state’s College Bound scholarship.  Districts have committed to sustaining SAT School Day beginning in 2016-17.

Foundational Elements

The Student Records Exchange, which allows student data to be securely transferred from district-to-district, has been deployed in four districts, and registrars have been trained on how to use the system to support mobile students.  Nine CBOs serving 600 students piloted Student Success Link, securely accessing student academic data to bridge in- and out-of-school support.

The Investment Fund for Teaching and Leading built capacity in every district to measure the impact of professional development through tools for capturing shifts in adult learning.  Districts developed a common set of practices with common partners to implement STEM teaching and learning.

The region continued to strengthen community-school partnerships, implementing the recommendations of the 2015 external evaluation report.  We redesigned the investment fund application process to make it more accessible for CBOs; this resulted in increased participation by small, ethnically-based CBOs supporting students of color. The grant invested in four new partnerships that will continue into the no-cost extension year.

Lessons Learned

As we planned for sustainability, several lessons emerged.

  • Begin with Racial Equity: As we led districts to plan for sustainability, leading with a racial equity lens to understand the impact on opportunity gaps, we realized we should have used just as explicit a racial equity lens in planning projects from the beginning. This could have resulted in projects more intentionally eliminating gaps.
  • Integrate Projects into District Strategic Plans: A number of districts faced the challenge of losing key staff over time who were charged with project implementation or leadership. As a way to counteract this reality, many districts began to tie projects at their inception to either the district strategic plan or district equity plan.  With this type of connection, a project may stall when a key staff member leaves, but has a greater chance of sustaining.
  • Build Internal Capacity to Sustain the Work: Districts are realizing that as beneficial as it is to have external partners to begin the work, building their own internal capacity of staff to continue similar work on its own will sustain the effort (both programmatically and financially).
  • Support Community-School Partnerships with More Time and Technical Assistance:  The more we invest in authentic community-school partnerships, the more time and assistance we realize is necessary to set partners up for success.  Partners need support developing authentic relationships, setting up decision-making structures, allocating resources, and measuring progress.
  • Use New Methods of Professional Learning to Bridge the Substitute Shortage:  In Years 1, 2 and 3, districts often were challenged with finding available substitutes during the year to support professional learning for teachers. Most districts continue to find this a barrier. However, some are initiating new types of professional learning that minimize the need for large numbers of substitutes.  These include sample lessons or units being posted online so teachers both share their work and see examples of new practices, and after school video clubs on best practices.


Year 4 was a year of intentional sustainability planning for the Road Map Region Race to the Top grant.  At the beginning of the year, we had made strong progress in our projects and were beginning to see robust results.  We now have detailed sustainability plans and a focused work scope to finish activities in the no-cost extension year.  Looking forward, we will finish strong with this last set of projects, ensuring that the region achieves the sustainable systems change it set out to accomplish.

Starting Strong Conference Shares Promising Practices

On August 1-3, early learning educators from around the state gathered in Tacoma for the annual Starting Strong Conference. This conference provides a unique opportunity for community providers, teachers, administrators and state leaders to come together for three days of learning and networking. A variety of presentations, covering a wide range of topics, are submitted each year by experts and practitioners. For the second year in a row, the Race to the Top PreK-3rd grade team has been fortunate to present on promising practices being implemented by the seven Road Map school districts.

This year, the P-3 team, along with early learning leads from three districts, led a panel focused on the building of districts’ early learning advisory teams. Page Meyer, Early Learning Director for Kent School District; Heather Newman, former Early Learning Director for Tukwila School District; and Karen Soine, Assistant Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Renton School District, shared their challenges and successes in building and sustaining a cross-sector early learning advisory team. A packed room of roughly 30 participants heard from district leaders about lessons learned, successes, and strategies for sustainability, had the opportunity to ask questions, and worked with their own teams to brainstorm what implementation might look like in their own district.

In addition, Kent School District presented for the second year. Page Meyer led a session discussing Kent’s journey to build a robust PreK-3rd grade system. This session has been well attended both years, and has provided other districts with the opportunity to understand the adaptive and technical challenges in building and sustaining a PreK-3rd grade system. The Starting Strong conference has allowed districts and PSESD staff to share the tremendous work of the Road Map Region with district, community and state-level leaders from all over Washington.


2016 Kindergarten Registration Gearing Up!

We’re excited to share that the 2016 Universal Kindergarten Registration Campaign will soon kick off across all seven Road Map districts. The common Kindergarten registration aims to encourage families to register their incoming Kindergarten students beginning as soon as the Tuesday after MLK Monday. (Registering in winter or spring allows families to get connected to various high-quality early learning opportunities they can engage in before Kindergarten to ensure they enter the school year ready for success.) All seven districts offer some type of programming for kids and families such as Play & Learn groups, Jumpstart, and Ready for K!, all of which can increase school readiness for kids and strengthen parent-to-parent and school-to-family relationships.

To find out more, please contact PreK-3rd Grade Systems lead Mary Waldron, or see related registration tools.