Our 2017 annual letter

FROM TINA FERNANDEZ, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Dear Friends,

During his Senior year at Mays High School, Kadar wasn’t thinking about going to college. He didn’t think he could afford to go. Plus, he had his eyes set on pursuing an acting career. However, after meeting with the College Advising Corps adviser at his school, he had a change of heart. The adviser told Kadar about the Achieve Atlanta scholarship and encouraged him to earn his degree while pursuing his dream career. Kadar’s vision for his future expanded as a result of his college advising sessions. This August, Kadar will start his Sophomore year at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, majoring in business administration. During his freshman year, Kadar was a vocal advocate for Achieve Atlanta and his college classmates often reached out to him for guidance. This coming year, he signed up to be a peer advisor to recent APS graduates attending AMSC. Kadar’s still excited about acting, is developing his leadership skills, and most importantly, will have a college degree and a solid foundation for his future.

This is just one of hundreds of inspiring personal stories we’ve heard during Achieve Atlanta’s short time in operation. As we celebrate our 2-year anniversary, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve learned, and where we’re going as an organization.

When we started this work, we were focused on one thing—dramatically increasing the number of APS graduates who earn a post-secondary degree.  At the time Achieve Atlanta was conceived, just over half of APS students were graduating from high school and only 22% of those graduates would go on to earn a postsecondary degree of any kind (technical, associates, bachelors) within six years of high school graduation.

It’s no wonder then, that Atlanta leads the nation in income inequality and has one of the lowest rates of social mobility in the entire country. According to research conducted by Raj Chetty, a Stanford Economist, a child living in poverty in Atlanta has about a 4 percent chance of moving out of poverty and into a higher income bracket in his or her lifetime.  Only 4 percent!

So, with this context in mind, and knowing that by 2020, 60% of the jobs in Georgia will require some type of post-secondary degree, Achieve Atlanta set out to make sure more APS students are positioned to complete college.  We identified barriers to getting to college, paying for college, and succeeding in college and began to make targeted investments in these areas.

And within two years, we have gotten results.  Very promising results.  As APS has increased its high school graduation rates, Achieve Atlanta has driven gains in APS students’ college enrollment, greater access to financial aid and scholarships, and a commitment from colleges and universities in Atlanta and across the state to graduate our kids at higher rates.  The key reason for these positive results has been our ability to tap into the power of strategic, coordinated action, using data as the spark for change. Simply put, what we’ve learned is that:

Vision + Relationships + Data = Results

What do I mean by this?  First, you have to set your goals and have a plan to achieve them.  Next, you must connect and coordinate with the people and organizations that share your vision.  Finally, you have to track your progress and change course when you’re not getting the results you want to see. Sounds pretty basic, right?  In theory, it is.  But what we’ve learned is that when you are engaging multiple systems (K-12, Higher Ed, Nonprofits, etc.) and trying to achieve impact at scale, you have to have someone, or some entity, synthesizing the vision, coalescing a community, and monitoring impact.  This is what Achieve Atlanta does. In addition to providing services and scholarships to students, Achieve Atlanta aspires to unite our community in service to our young people.

When I was in high school I was in the symphonic orchestra.  The orchestra was comprised of different sections (strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion—I personally was a proud clarinetist!) and each section had people who played different parts (melody, harmony, rhythm).  We all had a plan (the sheet music) that laid out our individual parts while the conductor held the vision, unifying the musicians, setting the tempo, and listening critically to ensure a coordinated interpretation of the music.

Achieve Atlanta wants to create an orchestra for change in Atlanta and together with our partners, has started to play.  Our progress this year has amplified my belief in what we can collectively accomplish.  We started by saying we wanted to dramatically increase the number of APS students who earn a degree. But like Kadar’s, our vision for the future has expanded. We believe we can eliminate the achievement and opportunity gaps that separate low-income and higher-income students in our city and make Atlanta a place where ALL kids succeed and thrive. Together, we can do it.

Let’s turn up the music.

2016-2017 Wins

  • 600

    Achieve Atlanta Scholars attending over 100 colleges and universities

  • 10

    PERCENTAGE POINTS

    Increase in APS FAFSA completion rate

  • 13

    Formal partnerships across K-12, Higher Ed, and Nonprofit sectors

  • >1100

    Seniors from APS Class of 2017 who qualified for the Achieve Atlanta Scholarship