As part of our Expert Highlight Series, we get to know Allan La Grenade-Finch, Springboard Collaborative’s Mid-Atlantic Executive Director. Allan is responsible for building strong partnerships with our school and district leaders, and the philanthropic community. A former engineering major who chose a career in the nonprofit sector after serving as a City Year AmeriCorps member in DC, Allan joined Springboard Collaborative after observing how secondary students still struggled with foundational literacy skills.

Allan provides key criteria for education leaders selecting a successful K-12 afterschool or summer and shares how to create partnerships with institutions and parents that boost literacy rates. Alan also reveals his passion for helping students close achievement and opportunity gaps.

Finding a Literacy Program That Fits

Allan addresses the three most common problems that education leaders face when implementing a literacy program:

“First, they’re looking for programming that’s highly effective, that will move the needle on student growth and student achievement. They want programs that are based in research and follow best practices that their students are making measurable gains.

“The second thing that I’ve noticed is that they’re looking for programs that are plug and play, that don’t require a ton of oversight, that include all the materials and curricular resources, and that are easy for teachers to implement without feeling overwhelmed.

“And the final thing is that they’re looking for programming supported by management. They’re looking for programming that is going to be designed and implemented in close partnership with a partner. They’re looking for additional capacity to stand up programming so that they’re able to launch reading programs at scale.”

Partnerships That Boost Literacy Rates

Allan adds that the partnership itself is often key to a program’s success in boosting literacy rates. He suggests two important things for schools and districts to keep in mind when looking for a partner:

“They should be looking for a partner that has a curriculum rooted in the science of reading. We now know that the science of reading is an approach that centers students. It reaches the most students and helps them acquire the early literacy skills they need to succeed in a measurable way that is supportive of their experience. And we need to make sure that all of our reading readiness curricula are rooted in the science of reading.

“The second thing I recommend that schools and districts look for is partners that are centering families in the process. Not just engaging families, but partnering with them and giving them the opportunities to be deeply involved in the learning cycle itself.”

Literacy Engagement at All Levels

Allan says that Springboard Collaborative’s approach to fostering student literacy is a willingness to engage partners wherever they can be found:

“Districts can be great partners in our work by deeply involving partners in their schools and districts, in their long-term planning around strategy to support their students over many years, and in any continuous improvement work that they’re doing. Springboard Collaborative knows that schools and districts value partners, and we believe that we can really help them shape their priorities because, often, we are the ones working in concert with their frontline staff on the ground, working with students and families. And we can lift up those priorities, concerns, and hopes from our constituents to ensure they are deeply involved in any long-term plans to support students.”

“I think families can be great partners to us in this work by being open about all the wonderful and unique things that we should know about the child. You are the experts on your children, and we are thrilled to get to know them through the course of programming. But what helps us do really great programming and customized programming is when we know so much more about your child, how they learn, what interests them, and what activates them, so that we can ensure that they get the most out of any opportunities with us.”

Accelerating Educational Equity

Educational equity is Allan’s passion, rooted in his own life experiences:

“As a Black man in America and a Black man in education, I know how deeply important it is to center students who are furthest from opportunity in any work to address achievement or opportunity gaps. I went to schools as a kid, and in all of K-12, I only had one Black teacher the entire time. I could see how critically important it was for students to see more folks like them, engaging with them in the classroom. From their teachers to their coaches to their academic advisors, it made a huge difference in how students felt about themselves and what they thought they could do in the future. And so educational equity is at the center of that, and we have to ensure that we are prioritizing students across the spectrum who are furthest from opportunities that they truly deserve.”

Springboard Collaborative’s mission of accelerating educational equity aligns with his own passion for prioritizing those students:

“I get to work directly with our school and district leaders to design and build programming that ensures that the students who really need access are going to get that access and that the programming is going to reach the right students and the right families. During the enrollment process, when we’re trying to get our students into seats, we work closely with our school and district leader partners to ensure that the students who really, really would benefit from programming are able to access it, that they know about it, and that they’re able to reduce as many barriers as possible to get them enrolled.

“Many studies have shown that students who are the furthest behind grade-level expectations actually benefit the most from targeted intervention services. We see that in our own results, too. A great part of my role is that I get to share our impact data with our school and district partners, and also with our funder partners, and share the good news about the work we’re doing. I’m confident that our work is directly contributing to student reading growth across the country, and it’s meeting the needs of the right students who really could use that extra boost of support.”

Springboard Collaborative’s Mission and People

When reflecting on his work at Springboard Collaborative, Allan mentioned two things that inspire him from day to day:

“What I love about the work is that I get to advocate on behalf of my students and connect them to opportunities that will benefit them today and tomorrow.

“I also get to be part of an amazing group of peers and colleagues who are so passionate about the work that we do and are experts in their fields. And it’s a real treat to get to work alongside such smart, intelligent, passionate people who care deeply about the outcomes we have for students and families. And so I am grateful to be here, and I’m looking forward to many years to come.”

Recommended Reading Then and Now

Allan fondly recalls one of his favorite reading experiences:

“My favorite childhood book is Arthur’s Tooth by Marc Brown. Why is an aardvark losing his tooth relatable content to an eight-year-old? Well, when I was a kid, losing baby teeth was a very traumatic experience, and it was really helpful knowing that one of my favorite characters went through the same thing. Reading that book taught me to love my body just the way that it is, and to trust the process. And it’s a book that I’ve had the great fortune of being able to read to my nephew as he is learning to read and also experiencing tooth loss. I still read it to this day.”

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Allan is an educator on a mission to accelerate educational equity for K-12 students everywhere. Prior to joining Springboard Collaborative, Allan served in a number of roles with City Year DC. He began his career serving as a City Year AmeriCorps member specializing in academic intervention, social-emotional skill building, and near peer mentorship. Upon completing two years of national service, Allan joined the City Year DC leadership team. In the years that followed, he was responsible for managing the successful implementation of the Whole School, Whole Child program, leading dozens of AmeriCorps members through 1,700 hours of service, expanding the organization’s school partner portfolio, and developing strategic partnerships with school leaders, philanthropic partners, elected officials, and education advocates across DC. Allan earned his bachelor’s degree in Science, Technology, and Society from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. One of his favorite childhood books is Arthur’s Tooth by Marc Brown. As Northeast Executive Director, Allan is responsible for building strategic partnerships with school leaders and philanthropic partners to advance Springboard’s mission in the Northeast region.