Partners in School Innovation (Partners) has a 20+ year history of supporting underserved public schools and districts in urban areas. The organization was founded in 1993 by Julien Phillips, a former Peace Corps volunteer and McKinsey & Co. partner, and Kim Grose, a Rhodes Scholar and social justice advocate, to create systemic improvements in low-performing public schools.

In their first year, Julien and Kim recruited and trained nine college graduates (each of whom committed to two years of service), and identified three San Francisco Bay Area schools that needed help. The fledgling organization was selected as one of California’s first AmeriCorps programs.

Focused on improving the reading and writing skills of low-income students, many of whom were non-English speakers, Partners developed a number of innovative tools for guiding teachers in best practices and assessing individual student needs. The results were impressive. In one elementary school, for example, during the 1996-1997 school year, the percentage of second graders reading at grade level increased from 12% to 70%.

Over time, Partners’ leadership saw that the majority of AmeriCorps recruits went on to teaching or other careers in the education field, taking their experience with them. As Partners evolved, gaining ever-increasing funding from private sources, the organization transitioned away from the AmeriCorps program. In 2005, we hired experienced teachers, thus raising the level of expertise offered to partner schools. From there, Partners dedicated itself to building partnerships and offering tools, training and guidance to improve the quality of education across entire school districts.

Since its founding, our partner schools have continued to see significant gains. In fact, schools that wholly implement the Partners core service model consistently outperform the literacy gains on California Standards Tests in English Language Arts when compared to similar schools around the state, as well as to the state as a whole. What’s more, English Learners in these schools outpace the reading growth of even their fluent English-speaking peers.

Today, close to twenty five years after opening its doors, Partners has become a national model for work to eliminate the achievement gap. We have expanded services from California to Illinois, have opened our doors in Battle Creek and Grand Rapids, Michigan, started intensive work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and have expanded our customized services work to include Mississippi and Albuquerque, New Mexico.