Bexar County Network Receives National Recognition for Advancing Education Initiatives for Young People

Bexar County Network Receives National Recognition for Advancing Education Initiatives for Young People

In recognition of its impact on the lives of young people across Bexar County, StriveTogether has designated UP Partnership as a “Systems Transformation” Cradle to Career Network member, the top designation for communities in its national network, making it one of six total communities to do so in the country. 

In Systems Transformation communities, cradle-to-career partnerships work with systems leaders to make fundamental and lasting shifts in policies, practices, resources and power structures. The goal for these changes is to eliminate racial and ethnic inequities, so that every Black, Indigenous, Latinx and Asian youth and all youth experiencing poverty have the opportunity to reach their full potential, from cradle to career.

“For more than 14 years, UP Partnership has brought together Bexar County community partners to find common ground for the larger goal of improving youth outcomes,” explains Dr. Emily Calderón Galdeano, Chief Impact and Strategy Officer at UP Partnership. “In more recent years, UP has rallied community partners around clear, focused goals. The Systems Transformation designation is due, in large part, to our community partners working together across those years to ensure more equitable outcomes for young people. Our partners’ shared dedication to improvement is why our countywide efforts have seen success.”

Through StriveTogether, UP Partnership is part of a national movement to help every child succeed in life, regardless of race, ethnicity, zip code or circumstance. The StriveTogether Cradle to Career Network is closing gaps and creating opportunities across education, health, housing and more. Through thorough evaluation of UP Partnership, StriveTogether found that the organization and its partners have demonstrated clear evidence that Bexar County is changing systems to advance equity and improve results for young people.

“I’m thrilled to announce Bexar County as our most recent community to prove it’s making a measurable difference for every child,” StriveTogether’s President and CEO Jennifer Blatz said. “UP Partnership has reached an important milestone in galvanizing the community around a common vision and effective data use. They are a clear leader in our network of nearly 70 communities across the country, all of whom are taking bold steps to improve how systems serve young people and their families.”

UP Partnership is the anchor organization of the Future Ready Bexar County Plan, a strategic community initiative launched in April of 2022, which has brought together nearly 90 cross-sector partner organizations in a collaborative effort to reach a collective North Star goal — to increase the percentage of Bexar County High School graduates enrolling in postsecondary degree or credential program to 70% by 2030. 

“This Future Ready Bexar County plan is the first, in my experience, that had a convener in UP Partnership to bring everyone together around a unified North Star and enable us to coordinate all our efforts in a way that, we anticipate, is going to have the intended effect in the most efficient way,” said UP Partnership board member Roland Toscano, Superintendent, East Central ISD.

The plan is centered around three equity pillars — healing, access and voice — the must HAVEs for equity amongst Bexar County’s young people. Partner commitments to these pillars are the result of years of collective work that ultimately led to the top Systems Transformation designation. 

“The UP Partnership board of directors consists of cross-sector community members who have adopted the Future Ready Bexar County plan as the strategic plan for the organization,” said Elanie Mendoza, Chair, UP Partnership board of directors. “We are witnessing the results of what can be accomplished if everyone in the community is united under a collective North Star goal. To date, nearly 90 community partners have already dedicated themselves to improving equitable outcomes for young people in Bexar County. We know this work cannot be done in isolation.  We also know, to be successful, community partners must come together in the space of community impact to drive real sustainable change.”

To join the national network, communities complete an assessment of their civic infrastructure development. This process measures progress against a continuum of quality benchmarks, known as StriveTogether’s Theory of Action™. This proven framework has five designations — Exploring, Emerging, Sustaining, Systems Change and Systems Transformation — that indicate progress toward aligning resources around better and more equitable outcomes for young people.

Additional quotes from Bexar County Leaders on this announcement: 

“This announcement combined with our collective efforts through Future Ready Bexar County will help us, as a community, move toward getting 70% of our young people enrolled into postsecondary or credential programs by 2030. That is a mere seven years away, but it is an important goal for us to seek,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.

“Our key is to ensure that we work with others to address one of the main challenges in our city, which is having credentialed talent, having individuals that may be seeking an industry based certification, a two-year degree or a bachelorette degree.” UP Partnership board member Dr. Mike Flores, Chancellor, Alamo Colleges District explains. “That two-year degree is the difference between struggle and success. It allows a student, and often their families, to be able to plan for the future. That is possible because of the work and alignment that we have through UP Partnership,” he concludes. 

About StriveTogether

StriveTogether is a national movement with a clear purpose: help every child succeed in school and in life from cradle-to-career, regardless of race, ethnicity, zip code or circumstance. In partnership with 70 communities across the country, StriveTogether shares resources and best practices to put more young people on the path to economic mobility. Together, the StriveTogether Cradle to Career network reaches 14 million young people — including 8 million children of color and nearly one in five children living in poverty in the United States.

About UP Partnership

Founded in 2009, UP Partnership is a San Antonio-based nonprofit that convenes partners in Bexar County that provide healing, access and voice to local young people to create equitable systems and ensure that all young people in Bexar County are ready for the future. UP Partnership believes that making sure all of our young people are future ready is our entire community’s responsibility. The mission is ambitious, challenging — and achievable — if we organize our efforts. UP Partnership drives the countywide strategy through collaboration, data sharing and advocacy. 

Meet UP Partnership’s Finance and Operations Team

Meet UP Partnership's Finance and Operations team

UP Partnership’s Finance and Operations team works to advance the organization’s finance, technology, human resources and operational systems, to ensure sustainable organizational operations as the organization aims to achieve its mission of ensuring all young people in Bexar County are ready for the future.

The team shares responsibility for the internal systems needed for organizational operation so all of the team is rooted in UP Partnership’s values, engaged in as a team in our collective work and have the capacity needed to drive impact.The team spearheading finance and operations consists of Brandon Henson, Director of Finance and Operations, J’Shcarla Adkins, Senior Manager of Finance and Operations, Patrick Farris, Manager of Development and Grants. Rodnekka Hall, Human Resources Manager of Training and Development, and Kristen Kitler, Human Resources Manager of Team Success.

Get to know the K12 & Postsecondary Team

Brandon Henson is originally from central Illinois before moving to southwest Missouri to attend college. He enjoyed an early, successful career as a “sideman” musician — a musician who steps in and performs with other musicians when needed. He moved to San Antonio in 2012 to join the team at Youth Orchestras of San Antonio. It was here that he met his wife and they have a three-year-old son and newborn baby boy. As he says, “While I’m not a native Texan, I married one, and I am raising one.”

As the most recent member of UP Partnership’s Finance and Operations team, the ability to build equitable community transformation is what drew Brandon to the work. In his role, he will provide support to the UP Partnership team through financial management and efficient operational strategies. 

His advice to all is simply “Be kind.”

J’Shcarla Adkins loves, encourages and uplifts her family and friends. She has been married for 25 years (and counting) and shares three pretty cool adult kids with her husband, she said. While she was born in New York, and lived in California and Nebraska, she has enjoyed her time in Texas the most.

She was drawn to the work of UP Partnership because she wanted to be part of an organization that works to encourage, uplift and provide opportunities for the youth in San Antonio. In her position, she oversees the operations of the organization, as well as managing budgeted expenses and activities. She reports to Brandon Henson and works with Kimberly Sama, Chief Finance and Operations Officer, to ensure financial sustainability for the organization.
Her advice to all is to not “be afraid to ask questions because the more you know; the more you grow!”

Patrick Farris is originally from Houston, but has lived in San Antonio for fifteen years. He spends his free time reading, gardening and being outdoors. He tries to fix things around his house but admits it isn’t always successful or timely. He enjoys good conversations, slow songs, spending time with close friends and thinking deeply about his life and the world.

With a diverse professional background, including an English educator for a refugee resettlement program, leading student volunteer teams and facilitating student leadership development at universities, he was drawn to UP Partnership’s work at the systems level that is building a citywide ecosystem that supports impact. In his position, he seeks funding opportunities for UP Partnership such as grants, and he communicates the impact of UP Partnership’s work in the community through our three systems change networks, our three collaboratives, and, when relevant, the work of our partnership institutions.

His advice to all is to “stay curious.”

Rodnekka Hall is a mom and motivator. She joined UP Partnership in 2016 to help launch our systems change network, My Brother’s Keeper San Antonio, but has since grown into a variety of positions within the company, such as Community Engagement and Capacity Building Manager, Project Coordinator, Human Resources Coordinator, and Special Projects and Process Development Manager. 

In her current position she leads and designs continuous learning and professional development systems including training, coaching and supervision, onboarding and re-boarding staff, facilitating training and teambuilding opportunities and is a coach in UP Partnership’s Excel Academy, which is anchored in our system change network Excel Beyond the Bell San Antonio.

Her advice to all is to “never give up.”

Kristen Kitler was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, and joined the Navy in 2014. As she started to serve our country, she ended up in the state of Washington for eight years where she developed a passion for hiking and the outdoors. The military provided her with many opportunities to volunteer within the community she was stationed in, as well as internally while on deployment.

It was those volunteer opportunities that she found the most enjoyable and is grateful for the opportunity to work at UP Partnership and continue to help those in her community. In her position she oversees the organization’s recruitment, interviewing, selection and hiring process, while administering employee-related services such as benefits and payroll.

Her advice to all is “life is short; find your happiness.”

If your organization is ready to join in on the Future Ready movement, please contact to find out more information on how you can become a Future Ready partner or donate to the work.

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