Ninth grade is a make-or-break year for students. If a student ends ninth grade “on-track,” meaning having successfully completed at least a quarter of the credits needed to graduate, they are 3-4 times more likely to graduate on time than their off-track peers. This session, our Center for High School Success team advocated for HB 1295, which would invest in targeted 9th grade student success supports, and it passed almost unanimously! This new investment will increase awareness of best practices to support 9th grade success across Tennessee, which will allow schools to set up systems that help our students finish their freshmen year on track and ultimately improve graduation rates throughout the state.

HB 1295 was one of the 2023 winners of EdTrust TN’s Ten for Tennessee award, and CHSS’ important work to increase freshmen on-track rates is featured on our website.

As of the 2022-23 school year, our Center For High School Success (CHSS) team is proud to announce that nine new partner schools joined the Freshman Success Network (FSN)! Partner schools consistently show greater numbers of freshmen who are on track to graduate than schools who are not part of the Memphis FSN, and we’re excited to welcome KIPP Collegiate, Central, Memphis Virtual, Carver, Mt. Pisgah, Oveton, Kingsbury, Southwind, and Cordova to our network. 

CHSS has had a massive positive impact in Memphis. Before the program started in the 2018-19 school year, the freshman on-track rate was only 29%. Freshman on-track rates started growing in the partner schools during that first year, and then the second and third years of CHSS (2019-20 and 2020-21) were marked by COVID. Despite the education interruptions, freshman on-track rates in partner schools still kept climbing. Last school year (2021-22), 83% of freshman students in partner schools were on track to graduate on time.  

Thanks to this huge growth, the Memphis FSN program is becoming a national leader for other states that participate in CHSS. Three of our schools (Oakhaven, Booker T. Washington, and Kirby), are now designated as demonstration schools, meaning that other states’ CHSS teams can look to these schools for how to successfully run the programs. In the coming year, our Memphis CHSS team will be working to expand across Tennessee and will advocate to add 9th grade success as a state-level accountability measure for our schools. 

We’re proud of all we’ve achieved so far for our students, and we’re looking forward to another year of gains!

Helping Freshmen Make the Transition

Our Freshman Success Network partner school Melrose High held its first Freshman Week last month to celebrate the accomplishments and growth of scholars, teachers, and parents. More than 145 students attended during the week, which included virtual, drive-through, and pick-up activities designed to serve as a transition for ninth-grade scholars to get them acclimated to more self-governance for grades 10-12. 

Borrowing from traditional college rite-of-passage ceremonies, the Melrose Freshman Success Team developed Freshman Week events to acknowledge scholars’ fulfillment of sophomore classification criteria and to encourage and inspire them as they look toward the next three years of high school. Goal-setting sessions helped students build out an academic plan for their sophomore year, and the school’s counseling team was on hand to assist with understanding credits and graduation requirements. Meet-and-greet events with the 10-12 teaching staff served to alleviate students’ anxieties about returning to school in the fall with unfamiliar teachers.  Melrose alumni were featured speakers throughout the week, connecting with the students and demonstrating community support for their dreams.  A “Passing the Torch” ceremony provided the departing freshmen with an opportunity to embrace the incoming freshman class and challenged them to continue paving the way for those that follow.

Although preparation was a key goal for Freshmen Week, celebration was also a major theme.  Scholars were recognized each day with special highlights during the virtual college tour and the final honors and attendance rally.  Additionally, 10 parents/families were awarded NOOK tablets for their active participation in meetings and academic activities throughout the year, and teachers were highlighted with “teacher superlatives” and presented with baseball team shirts and gear for summer orientation.

Freshman Week is one of the ways in which the Melrose Freshman Success Team has tried to be more focused about hitting its on-track targets. After some internal review and analysis, the team has learned to use data to leverage teacher strengths and pinpoint areas to build up with professional development opportunities.  Regular meetings with Freshman Success Coach Dr. Nina Reed helped the team to analyze beyond the basic level and to use an inquiry-based approach with their plans. By the third quarter, the Melrose team had an effective system in place and the school’s freshmen-on-track rates reflected their hard work.  With their new, targeted approach and new Freshman Week tradition, Melrose has created a solid foundation for launching its ninth-graders to graduation success.

Stand For Children Tennessee’s Memphis Freshmen Success Network (FSN) works diligently to ensure students in Shelby County Schools have equitable access to quality learning resources and the support ninth-graders need to succeed in their make-or-break year. Since the start of FSN in the 2018-2019 school year, we’ve expanded our partnership to include 20 schools throughout Memphis and Shelby County. Each school has established an on-site Freshmen Learning Academy team that provides the emotional support and resources needed for their students to succeed.

Since students have returned to in-person learning, our partners have gone beyond the call of duty to make that transition as comfortable as possible for students to acclimate to being back in the classroom. From creating on-site academic acountability partnerships to peer led emotional support groups 

Congratulations to all of our FSN Success Teams!  We look forward to continuing this journey with you!

Memphis Freshmen Success Partner Schools

  • Booker T Washington
  • Craigmont
  • Douglass
  • Hamilton
  • Kirby
  • Manassas
  • Melrose
  • Mitchell
  • Oakhaven
  • Raleigh Egypt
  • Sheffield
  • Trezevant
  • Westwood
  • Wooddale
  • MLK Prep
  • Memphis Business Academy
  • Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering
  • Freedom Prep
  • Soulsville
  • Power Center

Douglass High School is one of the partner schools in our Memphis Freshman Success Network.  During the Q2 FSN convening, the Douglass team shared their unique system for keeping freshmen on track.  Called “Check and Connect”, the new system provides a framework for the Douglass Freshman Success Team to identify and champion specific ninth-graders to help them improve their grades.

Check and Connect was created after the school guidance counselor and reset coordinator noticed an increased number of freshmen students with failing grades in two or more subjects due to the ongoing COVID pandemic.  These and other at-risk students were assigned mentors from the administrative and teaching staff who then set up regular check-ins to determine the student’s needs.  The mentors work hard to build relationships with the students to help them reach their academic goals and also provide a sounding board for life in general.  From hard copies of class assignments to extra-credit opportunities and even daily wake-up calls, mentors do whatever they can to assist the students in bringing up their grades.

Once students are back on track – defined as having no more than one failing grade – students are removed from the priority list, and mentor check-ins move to a less frequent maintenance schedule.  This system of one-on-one support has been instrumental in helping Douglass ninth-graders mitigate the effects of the pandemic and keep moving toward their dreams. 

In Memphis, our 20 partner schools have seen double-digit year-on-year increases in Freshmen On-Track rates thanks to our Freshmen Success Network coaches and partner liaisons. Together, both parties work to ensure that Memphis and Shelby County students receive the support they need to graduate on time from high school.

Across the county, Stand for Children’s Center for High School Success (CHSS) is now systematically supporting 155 in six states to implement proven practices for helping as many ninth graders as possible finish their “make or break year” on track.Through that extensive work with high schools, which span the gamut from small rural to large urban, our coaches witnessed firsthand the triumphs and challenges schools experienced as they attempted to educate students during the global pandemic.

From that unique, wide ranging collective perspective, the CHSS team identified seven stand-out high school practices every school district can and should adopt now to foster greater student success next school year and beyond.Their powerful, actionable three-page brief – “Stand Stronger – Stand-Out High School Practices Every District Can Adopt” – can be found here

compelling op-ed in Hechinger Report by CHSS leaders Habib Bangura and Kaaren Andrews about their first recommendation, implementing 4×4 Scheduling, is being picked up and distributed widely based on our surprising findings about 4×4 scheduling’s major impact on Ninth-Grade-on-Track rates. Please check it out and share it widely.

There has never been a more opportune or important time to adjust practices. Going back to the “old normal” cannot be the goal. A better and more just “new normal” must be the expectation. With the unprecedented challenges Memphis and Shelby County students continue to face during the pandemic, we owe it to them to make their educational journey impactful now more than ever. If you are interested in learning more about the recommended practices for high schools or pushing for ninth-grade success, please contact us at [email protected].

Stand for Children’s Center for High School Success works with 20 high schools across Shelby County to support them in focusing on supports for students in their make-or-break ninth grade year. In its second year in the Memphis Freshman Success Network (FSN), Hamilton High School has not only increased its on-track rate from quarter 1 to quarter 2 of the current school year, they have also achieved a year over year increase of up to 25% —showing that effective implementation of our ninth grade on-track initiatives yields positive outcomes.

It’s no secret that strong leadership is vital to the success of the Freshman Success initiative, and this is evident in the attendance from Hamilton Principal James Bacchus and his full team at every Collaborative (meetings of all FSN schools) we’ve held since the launch of the FSN. The Hamilton Freshman Success Team, led by Mrs. Cicely Dunigan Brooks, can be found huddled up at each Collaborative, questioning one another on how best to apply the learning and take-a-ways they’ve gathered at this day-long professional development session. 

Mrs. Brooks meets regularly with Hamilton’s Freshman Success Coach, Dr. Nina Reed, reviewing data and discussing accountable means of adult collaboration that focus on improving student outcomes. Team Hamilton also involves parents in this initiative, holding regular parent meetings to inform parents of students’ progress, needs and other areas. Team Hamilton is fully invested in the work of freshman success, and we look forward to supporting them towards continuous measures of improvement. Check out the recognition of this great work in the Tri-State Defender.

Research has shown that students who complete their freshman year on track — earning at least a quarter of the credits needed for graduation with no more than one “F” in a core course — are four times more likely to graduate on time than their off-track peersIn fact, freshmen success is more predictive of high school graduation than race, ethnicity, poverty level, and previous test scores combined. By focusing on the academic success of ninth-grade students, we can substantially increase graduation rates in our community. 

That’s why we established the Memphis Freshman Success Network (FSN), first as a pilot project in 2017 and then as a full program beginning with the 2018-2019 school year. We provide school leaders and ninth-grade educators with professional development, job-embedded coaching, access to an advanced data platform, and the technical assistance needed to develop and implement highly effective programs and practices for keeping ninth-grade students on the path to on-time graduation.

Earlier this month, we recognized the great efforts of the 13 high schools in the 2018-2019 Memphis FSN cohort and celebrated their successes at a special luncheon featuring guest speaker Janice Wells, CEO of Sankofa Education Group who, as Chicago Public Schools’ deputy chief of high schools, pioneered successful strategies that resulted in 24 schools in her designated area outperforming other high schools across the district in freshmen on-track, graduation, and college enrollment rates.

We’ve worked diligently with the Memphis FSN school teams this past year and, as a result, schools in the network saw an overall (combined) 30 percentage point increase in the number of freshmen who are on track to graduate at the end of the third quarter than at the same point in the previous school year, with the percentage point increases at individual schools ranging from 16 to 61. Kudos to each school team for such remarkable and rewarding outcomes for the first year!

Although the 2018-2019 school year is drawing to a close, our work with the Memphis Freshmen Success Network is still moving at full speed. This summer, we will add nine new schools into a second FSN cohort for the 2019-2020 school year. Encouraged by what we’ve seen so far, we look forward to collaborating with all of our teams, current and new, toward even greater improvements in ninth-grade success rates in the new year.

To support the work of Stand for Children Tennessee, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today.