Becoming Achieving the Dream, Inc.

Transitioning the initiative into a permanent, independent entity.

The first major shift for the organization occurred in 2009, when the partners recognized that the model was not efficient on the scale necessary for ATD to be sustainable, so they began a new co-creative process: planning how to transition the initiative into a permanent, independent entity.

The partners engaged Bridgespan, consultants who were expert in helping nonprofits scale their work to advance social change, and determined that the best approach to move forward was to appoint an interim governing board to recruit a new chief executive officer, hire a full-time staff, and establish a headquarters for the proposed nonprofit. Lumina’s continued support gave other investors confidence to come through on their tentative commitments. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation joined Lumina in making a substantial grant to launch the new nonprofit and hire the new CEO.

By January 2010, the transition was in full motion. Dr. William E. Trueheart, a foundation leader with a background in higher education and social entrepreneurship, became its first CEO. At the time, Dr. Trueheart had been president of the Pittsburgh Foundation and previously, president of Bryant University, a four-year college with a strong equity agenda, and president and CEO of Reading is Fundamental in its formative years.

Among other changes, ATD created a new tier of network participation—Leader Colleges—for institutions that had mastered the principles of reform, but wanted to move to the next level. Data facilitation was transferred from MDC to the nonprofit organization, which had relocated to the Washington, D.C., area. Over time, ATD moved other partner functions in house, established a permanent board of directors, and kept recruiting more talent so that it could take on the functions the partners had previously performed. Only a few functions, such as the state policy work led by Jobs for the Future and leadership coaching led by the University of Texas at Austin, continued at the partner level.

Under Dr. Trueheart, ATD’s network grew in size and the organization strengthened and fine-tuned its processes, based on knowledge gained from the field and hewing to its three original pillars: developing supports, such as coaching, for scaled solutions; disseminating knowledge by creating a peer-to-peer learning platform and holding an annual conference; and encouraging innovation by incubating new ideas.

A Model of Continuous Improvement

In 2011, MDRC, a leading social policy research firm and initiative partner, did an evaluation of ATD’s impact on the 26 colleges in the first cohort and found mixed results. It found that those colleges that made the greatest strides had broad-based involvement of administrators, faculty, and staff; strong institutional research departments that produced accessible reports on student achievement; regular evaluations of their programs; and scale-up of successful programs. The report helped ATD determine the best way to work with its colleges, such as institution wide reforms rather than small pilots and putting more effort into pedagogy and curriculum.

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