SAM celebrates the launch of the John T. Wardlaw Institute for Continuous Improvement

Thursday, March 21, 2019 3:15 pm

Dozens of community leaders gathered from across Spartanburg County yesterday afternoon to celebrate the legacy of the late John T. Wardlaw, Spartanburg’s pioneer in community data analysis; and to express appreciation for a philanthropic gift designed to honor and further his work.

A very significant designated gift from Mr. Wardlaw’s philanthropic legacy supports the establishment and first three years’ operation of a new training center offered by the Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM), the “John T. Wardlaw Institute for Continuous Improvement.”

The Institute serves to build Continuous Improvement (CI) science practices across schools and non-profit support organizations working to advance academic achievement. It offers free training to Spartanburg County educators and agencies willing to employ and expand CI practices, track results and work with SAM to monitor progress across key stages of learning. 

SAM is a member of the StriveTogether national network working to bring communities together around data to make decisions and improve results for kids.

“Creating a culture of continuous improvement is core to our work at StriveTogether. When communities embrace continuous improvement methodology, they get better results for children,” Jennifer Blatz, StriveTogether CEO, said. “We believe the Wardlaw Institute for Continuous Improvement will be a game changer for the Spartanburg Academic Movement.”

“The goal of SAM is to improve academic outcomes for children, anchored in improved achievement, cradle to career. Adopting continuous improvement practices in this effort supports the development of data-driven strategies yielding reliable results that can be replicated at scale, making possible widespread and long-term impacts on academic achievement,” said Dr. John Stockwell, executive director of SAM.

John T. Wardlaw was a true leader with a deep understanding of how local data can drive positive change. He started what is now known as the Spartanburg Community Indicators Project, which uses data to track community well-being across multiple sectors: civic health, cultural vitality, economy, education, natural environment, public health, and social environment.  His goal was simple: use local data to derive solutions to local challenges. 

“Continuous Improvement science provides a disciplined approach to improving education outcomes by innovating in a controlled and data-driven manner,” said Mendy Mossbrook, Director of SAM’s Wardlaw Institute. Mossbrook comes from a management and engineering background wherein continuous improvement science guided decisions and success measures.  She now leads educators and community leaders seeking to adopt improvement science strategies.

SAM’s CI training initiatives began in the spring of 2018.  Last night Mossbrook recognized early adopters, referred to as the “coalition of the willing,” now numbering more than 60, who have already received training during the six months prior to the formal launch.  

Mossbrook also shared that continuous improvement science is not new, having started with the automotive industry by W. Edwards Deming in the 1950’s. But embedding the effective practice in a human-centered environment like a classroom is a new application of the science.

In a few communities across the country studied by SAM and Spartanburg educators, this work is proving successful in improving student achievement and served as models for the formation of Spartanburg’s effort.

Before closing the formal portion of the reception, Stockwell announced that the Wardlaw gift provides funding for Wardlaw Champion awards recognizing those demonstrating success using these new teaching and learning strategies. An event is already being planned for the afternoon of September 18, 2019 for the announcement of those awards.

Mrs. Mary “Pootsie” Wardlaw also attended the event, greeting guests warmly and sharing her delight with the launch of the Wardlaw Institute honoring her husband’s life’s work and passions.

“I am proud that my father’s dedication to Spartanburg County and his love of data as a driver of change is going to continue to live on through the Wardlaw Institute. Having been an educator myself, and with our daughter now teaching in Spartanburg County, the effort to empower teachers and ultimately build the success of children is deeply meaningful to us all,” said Saunders McCollum, Mr. Wardlaw’s daughter. 

The Wardlaw Institute’s training is ongoing and year-round. Teachers can register for free training classes through the website.

For more information visit;  email; or call 864-573-5804.


The Spartanburg Academic Movement is a nonprofit organization and a community movement working to convene action partners to engage community voices and resources in advancing academic achievement across Spartanburg county, cradle to career.

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