Working with Local Businesses to Fund the Fellowship

Long-time SDP partner Atlanta Public Schools knew they wanted to continue participating in the Strategic Data Project fellowship. Faced with a lack of flexibility in the budget, they decided to get creative. Rachel Sprecher, APS Executive Director of the Office of Partnerships and Development, shares how the district was able to secure external funding to continue their participation in the fellowship.

In spring 2015, Dr. Rubye Sullivan (SDP Cohort 5 2013-2015), former Executive Director of Data and Information for Atlanta Public Schools (APS), was nearing completion of her fellowship. As her support and training from SDP drew to a close, she became adamant that the district continue its partnership with SDP. “My experience in the fellowship was invaluable both personally and professionally, as I was able to bring back critical knowledge about how to leverage data in our district. It was imperative that we continue to participate,” said Sullivan. She even had an APS rising star in mind as a candidate for an SDP Agency Fellow.


Dr. Sullivan quickly came up against one of the most common obstacles in a school district: funding. As with many urban school districts across the nation, finding money in the general fund to support an additional agency fellow or data fellow was a challenge.


Enter the APS Office of Partnerships and Development, an office established by APS Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen in 2014 to support the district in fundraising for its strategic initiatives and unfunded priorities. The Office of Partnerships and Development searches and applies for federal, state, and local funding to support the districts goals and needs. Dr. Sullivan approached the Office’s Director, Katie McDowell, about SDP, explaining how another fellow would benefit the organization, and most importantly, students and staff.


Due to SDP’s tremendous impact around developing data strategists’ skills in collecting, analyzing, and communicating with data, Ms. McDowell thought that it would be a good opportunity to include in an existing campaign targeted at building district leaders’ capacity. Under Dr. Carstarphen’s leadership, APS had just embarked on a bold transformational journey aimed at turning the district around through key initiatives such as academic programs, talent management, systems and resources, and culture. After significant challenges including a drawn-out cheating scandal, the need for strengthening the district’s capacity in transparent data-driven decision making was more important than ever. As a result, Ms. McDowell added the SDP fellowship program to a list of four critical strategic initiatives targeted toward the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Atlanta Partners for Education members, a group of local businesses committed to supporting the APS mission that with a caring culture of trust and collaboration, every student will graduate ready for college and career.


Georgia Power answered the call to action, and agreed to fully fund APS’ participation in the fellowship by enrolling Data Strategist Michael LaMont as an Agency Fellow in the two-year program. Like APS, Georgia Power valued data and research, and knew they would receive a great return on this investment. “We’re committed to helping Georgia’s educators by supporting initiatives that give them the tools they need to be more effective and impactful,” said Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power. “Through this program, APS educators will be able to leverage the latest research, data, and analytics techniques to better serve students throughout the system.”


Mr. LaMont was humbled by Georgia Power’s generous gift that enabled him, along with his APS supervisor, to go SDP’s professional learning workshops in collaboration with Harvard University and uncover new insights in analysis of school performance. Through SDP, Michael was able to leverage his skills to design hundreds of data dashboards for educators and external stakeholders, including a public data blog to increase data transparency.


As a result of his SDP training and development, he applied his new learned expertise in APS schools to ensure the district is providing the highest quality education to all students. At the December 2016 APS Board of Education meeting, he was named the new APS Executive Director of the Data and Information Group.


Organizations such as Georgia Power recognize that the bar is being raised in K-12 education and that SDP fellows can be a key lever in producing tremendous student achievement outcomes. APS encourages other districts to take a similar approach in sourcing external funding or sponsorship for the SDP program and to leverage its prestige for additional funding.


To date, APS has participated in three cohorts of SDP. APS is happy to share best practices about building relationships with funders and partners. For questions or additional information, contact Rachel Sprecher, at For more information about becoming an SDP partner and hiring a Data Fellow or enrolling an Agency Fellow, contact Alison Guerriero at