Empowering Student Success: The Network for College Success (NCS) Journey

Transforming Education Together

In the field of education, the shared aspiration of fostering student success drives us all. One organization heavily involved in this work is the Network for College Success (NCS), founded by Dr. Melissa Roderick, Mary Ann Pitcher, and Sarah Duncan within the University of Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. In this blog, we invite high school teachers, counselors, administrative personnel, and district leaders to embark on a journey through NCS's history, mission, and the insights that our work offers.

A Vision Rooted in Collaboration and Equity

Our journey commenced in 2006 when the UChicago Consortium unveiled the influential "From High School to the Future" report. This seminal report brought to light the challenges confronting students, particularly those from underserved communities, during the pivotal transition from high school to college. It was this report that ignited the formation of the Network for College Success (NCS).
We view school leadership as a critical lever for transforming schools. Early on in our project’s history, we partnered with principals to cultivate improved instruction, foster college-going cultures, and implement student-centered practices in their buildings, ultimately yielding positive outcomes for historically underserved youth. 
However, principals alone cannot accomplish this work. 
Research from the UChicago Consortium demonstrates that school leaders who develop systems and structures for distributed leadership throughout their buildings have a greater impact. Teachers, counselors, and other administrators must collaborate with principals to drive sustained change and enhance student outcomes.
At the heart of our work also lies a deep commitment to equity. In its early days, NCS expanded its efforts to actively transform schools that serve students and families of color. Our enduring objective has consistently been the creation of inclusive, anti-racist institutions that champion equitable learning for all. 
For an in-depth understanding of our commitment to equity in our services, we encourage you to explore our organizational equity stance.
Educators and school leaders analyze a high school team’s professional learning community for practices and tactics they can implement into their own context.

Nurturing the Student Journey

Educators and school leaders inherently understand the profound significance of every step in a student's journey. From that very first day of high school to the moment of graduation, each milestone intricately shapes a student's future. Recognizing the monumental importance of this, NCS proactively initiated partnerships with schools, aiming to ensure the student experience starts off well in ninth grade.
In 2011, NCS embraced a pivotal insight gleaned from research conducted by the UChicago Consortium–that ninth grade represents a critical juncture in a student's academic trajectory. Specifically, students who excel in ninth grade are three times more likely to successfully graduate from high school. 
With this knowledge, NCS devised a distinctive approach to ninth grade year success.

Empowering Educators

The NCS team knows that student success is intricately tied to the leadership and capacity of educators. In 2016, our expertise in freshman success garnered national recognition as we implemented the inaugural National Freshman Success Institute (NFSI). This groundbreaking convening united educators from across the nation, facilitating the exchange of best practices and strategies on the transition to ninth grade.
In 2018, the Gates Foundation recognized NCS's unwavering commitment to education transformation, particularly with ninth grade success. They awarded NCS a five-year grant, equipping us with the means to delve deeper into research-driven practices and continuous improvement science–all in an effort to significantly improve student outcomes. Collaboratively working with the UChicago Consortium and The To&Through Project, we also published "Practice-Driven Data," serving as a testament to NCS's dedication to research-based solutions that elevate student outcomes.
NCS continues to expand its footprint on a national scale by embarking on a journey of providing coaching and consulting services with a focus on ninth grade success. The inception of the Freshman Success for Equity Improvement Network and Midwest Regional Network also allowed us to amplify our impact within Chicago and beyond.
Educators engaged in a dialogue at the National Freshman Success Institute in 2023.

The Journey Forward

As we look toward the future, the Network for College Success remains steadfast in our support for schools within the Chicago Public Schools district. At the same time, we are actively nurturing collaborative partnerships across the country. 
Our journey, marked by significant milestones and a commitment to equity, stands side by side with those of educators, counselors, administrators, and district leaders who share our dedication to providing each and every student with a transformative high school experience that positions them for resounding success beyond graduation.
To explore our story in greater detail, we encourage you to check out the historical timeline below.

NCS Historical Timeline:

  • 2006–UChicago Consortium releases first “From High School to the Future” report
  • 2006– Dr. Melissa Roderick, Mary Ann Pitcher, and Sarah Duncan form the Network for College Success as a principals network
  • 2007– Targeted Leadership Consulting (TLC) Framework for Powerful Results becomes a roadmap for focus on instruction
  • 2007–NCS hosts first Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) Institute in October
  • 2008–NCS holds first College Counselors and Collaborative (CCC) and begins postsecondary success coaching
  • 2008–NCS begins coaching principals and ILTs
  • 2009–NCS begins coaching ninth grade teams and launches Freshman Success Collaborative 
  • 2010–The Freshman Success Framework is created and piloted in NCS schools 
  • 2011–NCS becomes a Lead Partner Provider for federal School Improvement Grants (SIG)
  • 2011–NCS expands transition success coaching to 10th grade 
  • 2011–The Postsecondary Success Framework is created and piloted in NCS schools
  • 2012–NCS brings ILT work to scale across Chicago Public Schools
  • 2013–Several NCS schools take up Reading Apprenticeship (RA) as their powerful instructional practice with NCS coaching support
  • 2014–NCS receives a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to produce the Freshman On-Track Toolkit
  • 2014–NCS staff expands race and equity work through studying Courageous Conversations
  • 2016–NCS convenes the first National Freshman Success Institute (NFSI)
  • 2018–NCS receives a five-year grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • 2018–NCS, UChicago Consortium, and The To&Through Project publish “Practice-Driven Data: Lessons from Chicago’s Approach to Research, Data, and Practice in Education”
  • 2018–NCS expands to national coaching and consulting centered on freshman success 
  • 2020–NCS receives third Gates Foundation grant, which supports the development of the Freshman Success for Equity Improvement Network Community
  • 2020–NCS takes up organization-wide learning of continuous improvement (CI) science 
  • 2021–NCS becomes part of GRAD Partnership for Student Success
  • 2022–NCS convenes Midwest Regional Network, a network of schools seeking to deepen their work and share strategies as it relates to ninth grade success work.
  • 2023–The National Freshman Success Institute reaches over 1000 participants since its inception.
  • 2023–NCS launches a new strategic plan and Krystal Payne, a longtime educator and NCS coach, becomes Executive Director of the project.