Strengthening Organizations

 
 
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The Metro College Success Program, which helps bridge the opportunity gap for underprepared first-generation college students at San Francisco State University, attracts bright, qualified, and passionate instructors who teach first-year experience, second-year experience, and capstone courses along the program's two-year educational pathway. While few instructors come prepared to teach college writing and critical thinking, Metro students require writing and reasoning support across the curriculum to succeed. All three Metro core courses include a writing-intensive research assignment designed to nurture critical thinking within a social justice framework. Past attempts to interest instructors in attending workshops and brownbags on teaching writing and critical thinking had received a lukewarm response, which was not surprising. Research in teacher education has pointed to the need for teachers' empowerment in their own professional learning, so when Metro's Faculty Learning Community brought me in to work on building faculty skills, I drew on my experience designing faculty-led assessments of program-wide student work for California State University Monterey Bay's first-year-experience program. In faculty-led assessment, instructors have the opportunity to assess student work from other sections of the course they teach as well as from other courses in the pathway in which they teach, which results in a stronger context and motivation for supporting student achievement. For Metro, I developed, implemented, and evaluated a year-long pilot for a student-centered, teacher-led, program-level assessment of student learning in writing and critical thinking, delivering full documentation and recommendations for the next iteration of the assessment work, which is now underway. Once a post-pilot baseline is established, Metro will be able to add findings about instructional achievement and student learning to their other indicators of program effectiveness.

 
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The number of advocacy organizations in California who recruit, prepare, place, and technically support low-income people of color for appointed local and state commission service was growing, yet clusters of these organizations were operating in geographic silos without the cross-fertilization needed for innovation. Based on my past work developing Urban Habitat's Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute in the Bay Area and my current work on the Liberty Hill Foundation's Emerging Leaders Program in Los Angeles, the California Endowment and the James Irvine Foundation asked me to design and lead a learning community. This community would encourage knowledge and strategy sharing among such organizations, including the African American Board Leadership Institute, Building Healthy Communities Long Beach, the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, the Center on Policy Initiatives, the Liberty Hill Foundation, Mid-City Community Advocacy Network, the South Sacramento Building Healthy Communities Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute, and Urban Habitat. Our work together culminated in a commitment from those groups to continue sharing information and strategies, including evaluation strategies. The learning community continues to meet for an annual multiday retreat, with Urban Habitat stepping up to manage the collective. They've since called on me to augment evaluation tools, including a resource guide for conducting data-rich interviews with program alumni.