The Value of the GRAD Partnership Intermediaries

by Patricia Balana, Managing Director, The GRAD Partnership

May 30, 2023

GRAD Partnership Intermediaries serve as catalysts for the implementation of sustainable student success systems for local schools and districts. Different kinds of organizations can serve as Intermediaries, including nonprofits, higher education centers, advocacy groups, and, in some instances, school districts. This past year, two GRAD Partnership Intermediaries, The University of West Alabama (UWA) and North State Together (NST), launched pilot efforts. With technical assistance from the GRAD Partnership, UWA and NST each work with cohorts of ten rural schools in the Black Belt Region of Alabama and Mississippi and northern California, respectively.

The GRAD Partnership recently checked in with the two projects’ facilitators, UWA’s Annah Rogers and NST’s Susan Schroth, to hear their perspective on the value of being a GRAD Partnership Intermediary for their organizations and the schools they work with. Together, their work demonstrates how Intermediaries can play a vital role in the development of rural school student support systems.

Supporting Schools and Students

For both the Northern California and Black Belt Region cohorts, the GRAD Partnership project has created new connections for schools that are typically isolated from each other and disconnected from wider national conversations. The schools working with GRAD Partnership Intermediaries are now engaged in new, inclusive collaborations that foster shared learning.

Rogers notes that the schools she works with in rural Alabama “sometimes feel closed off,” but she’s observed that now “the schools really enjoy the cohort model and learning from each other.” In rural Northern California, Schroth reflected that they were successful in engaging “some of the most remote, rural or non-comprehensive high schools that don’t get a lot of attention or support.” She added, “These ten schools now felt so excited to be invited into the space.” The value of a new space fostering continuous learning and innovation was notable: “Bringing together schools to learn from each other is significant. Now counties are sharing information, not just schools in the same districts. These are schools that normally wouldn’t talk to each other.”

The learning communities and new connections are already paying off for students. In the Black Belt region, Rogers has observed schools embracing a holistic, student-centered mindset: “The schools have been able to make lasting relationships with their students and they have looked more at the whole child.” Schroth sees the project working as well: “I think the GRAD Partnership has deepened everything. It’s exactly what we want to be doing – connecting all these schools and families and communities to the entire region.”

The Value of Being an Intermediary

By creating new connections for previously isolated schools, GRAD Partnership Intermediaries bring tremendous value to their local communities and students. Serving as an Intermediary also brings value to the Intermediaries’ respective organizations, including by expanding their own networks, generating increased visibility within national conversations, and most broadly helping to advance their organizational mission.

“The GRAD Partnership has increased our dialogue with area schools, which we suspect will lead to more collaborations,” said Rogers. “In addition, The University of West Alabama has been proud to be part of a national effort with such well known partners. This has helped us establish bonds both internally and externally.”

Schroth agreed. “I think this project has increased the willingness of schools to partner with us. By using ten different schools from five different counties we have been breaking down silos, and good communication is happening. And not just in northern California, but also with the connections to the Rural Schools Collaborative, our colleagues in the Alabama Black Belt, and the GRAD Partnership . These are connections that weren’t there before.” Schroth summed it up by saying, “For us, there is simply more synergy.”

Get Involved

The GRAD Partnership is actively seeking new Intermediaries to partner with in regions across the country. If you’re interested in learning more about how to become a GRAD Partnership Intermediary, please email

Learn more about North State Together

Learn more about University of West Alabama

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