From Administrative Nightmare to Outstanding Academic Gains: How We Transformed After-School Programming

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Written by Ginger Keller-Ferguson, MBA

I began my grant writing career in 2006 when I joined the central office of one of Tennessee's top performing K-12 public school districts. To that point, I'd worked in social services and written grants purely to help a handful of struggling nonprofits that provided direct services to my clients. It was a mission-driven hobby, but one that paid big dividends for people I cared about.

When I joined the Kingsport City Schools system, my first big challenge was to get my arms around the district’s various Lottery for Education After-School Program and 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants.

We needed to streamline the grant administration system. We had 6 or 8 separate grants, each with their own project director and reporting structure. Most grants were supervised by the school principals, but they really didn’t have the time or attention to devote to overseeing the programs.

Adding to the fun, more than half of our after-school programs competed with a community partner who was providing fee-based after-school programming at our schools.

In short, it was an inefficient mess.

Over the course of a few grant competitions, I completely overhauled our approach.

  • We consolidated all of the programs into one grant.
  • We hired one project director, housed in the central office, to supervise all of the sites.
  • And instead of competing with our community partner, we joined forces.

We utilized grant funding to subsidize our students’ participation in the fee-based after-school program operated by the nonprofit. To ensure the program met the high standards expected by KCS, we utilized district-based project direction to forge curriculum-aligned academic support and enrichment activities.

We provided stipends to teachers to serve as liaisons between their school and the program. The teacher liaisons made the program aware of each participant’s academic and remediation needs and worked with the nonprofit to provide specific academic supports. We even included our nonprofit partner in the district’s professional development opportunities.

I’m still really proud of what we accomplished. Before we streamlined the program, academic outcomes had been all over the place.

Under the new design, we achieved consistently positive gains across the board. At our first site visit from the state, they were thoroughly impressed, so much so that I was asked to join a newly formed state-wide task force for after-school program evaluation design.

Since tackling the after-school program redesign, I’ve written about $30 million in grants across almost every field at the federal, state, and private level. But educational programs – specifically after-school programs for at-risk kids – are my passion. I love visiting after-school programs and seeing the real, tangible impact these programs make in the lives of kids.

I left social services on a mission to help vulnerable populations before they fall into “the system.” I believed then as I believe now that access to high-quality after-school programs is the single most effective way to keep at-risk kids out of “the system.”

I brought that philosophy with me during my time working directly in public education. And it’s with me now as I lead my nonprofit consulting business. Today, my company continues to focus on helping nonprofits and school systems provide high-quality after-school programming.

Over the past two years, we’ve written four after-school programming grants for two nonprofits in Northeast Tennessee. All four grants were awarded, bringing well over a million dollars in funding for these vital after-school programs.

I make a point of taking new hires at KFA on a site visit to one of these nonprofits, showing them why we do what we do. This work is central to our mission, and I can think of no better way to incite the same passion in my team that led me to found this company than seeing the smiling faces and bright futures we can create firsthand.

Because I believe so strongly in after-school programming, we’re making our grant-writing services very affordable right now. Many state's 21st Century Community Learning Center grants are opening in the next few weeks.

Even though getting a grant is a time-consuming process, we want to offer our grant-writing services to up to 5 nonprofits for just $5,000. If you’ve ever priced grant-writing, you know that’s a very good value. After all, these grants are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Please get in touch today. Give me a call at 423-406-2907 or send an email to But hurry! Deadlines will be here soon!

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