2014 NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference in Washington, DC

Register Now!

2014 NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference July 20–23, 2014 Washington Hilton, Washington, DC On behalf of the U.S. Department of Education and NCCEP, we are pleased to invite you to attend the 2014 NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference, celebrating GEAR UP’s 15th Anniversary!  The theme of this year’s conference is “A Dream Realized.”  To access the online registration, click the Register Now button below.


You may want to spend some time reflecting on your professional goals before attending a conference. Conferences can be highly effective at helping you advance a wide range of professional objectives. For example, they can help you build and extend professional contacts, find a mentor or collaborator, gain experience presenting original work, advance your subject matter expertise, extend your knowledge of resources, introduce you to new theory, methods or tools, gain ideas for new programs and workshops, develop new skills or simply refresh your interest in and enthusiasm for managing programs and working directly with students. Whatever the goal, be intentional in the way you seek to advance your professional identity, contacts and knowledge.  Don’t passively attend the conference use it to advance your career objectives!


There are normally a variety of session formats to select from including pre-conference workshops, panel discussions, team delivered presentations and of course single presenter presentations. Each offers a special experience and learning opportunity. Branch out a bit and see if you can sample a range of presentation approaches and styles.


It is easy to be overwhelmed by the range of activities happening during a conference. Spend some time before you go reading through the program to get a sense of what seems most interesting and relevant. Large conferences may also offer a common reading for thought and reflection and if these are accessed in advance they may add much to your overall conference experience. Taking the time to prepare in advance will help you feel more relaxed and organized once the conference begins. Conferences offer so much – it can be helpful to review, reflect and strategize in advance.


Conferences can be packed with interesting sessions and it can be hard to choose between interesting concurrent sessions. Although it may be tempting to attend individual sessions with trusted coworkers, consider asking your friends and workmates to spread out over the conference and attend different concurrent sessions. This strategy will ensure maximum exposure to what the conference has to offer.  Set some time aside to debrief and share materials and handouts with these workmates during breaks. This will help you gain access to much more of the conference than you could as a single attendee.


Raise your hand, offer a comment, tell a story, frame a challenge, suggest a solution, give an example, reflect, engage and engage others! Be an active rather than passive participate. Much of the learning that takes place at a conference happens through peer-to-peer sharing and interaction. You may also wish to consider volunteering at a conference. This can be a great way to gain professional experience and engage more fully in the conference as it is happening.


Choose to attend at least one conference presentation in an area that you are not familiar with. This might help you discover a new passion, resource or opportunity. Focus not only on extending existing knowledge and expertise, focus on growth.


Conferences are great ways to engage with your familiar and trusted workmates but make it a point to expand your professional contacts by introducing yourself to at least three new people. If you feel awkward approaching others, network with an extroverted friend who can help with introductions. You are likely to meet some amazing people.


Write down a few key takeaways from each session you attend. Consider how you might use what you learned in your professional practice. Be determined to take away at least one idea, tool, concept or bit of information that can be applied to your daily practice. Hang on to your handouts for future reference.


Attend the scheduled social events! These are actually a lot of fun and really help to extend the excitement, enthusiasm and energy of a conference. If you are shy, take a friend with you. Don’t be afraid to relax and mingle.


If you are one of only a few people in your immediate working group who is able to attend a conference you may want to focus on what you can take back to others who are not able to attend. Consider yourself an emissary for your entire working group and be committed to sharing what you learned with others. Bring conference highlights home by presenting to your department, host a brown bag debrief and share key takeaways with colleagues.


Use the business cards you collect at a conference in the future. Reach out to others and look for ways to share and collaborate on new projects. This is a great way to form and strengthen professional networks over time. The call for proposals closed on April 1, 2014.

Click here to access the 2014 NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference schedule-at-a-glance.
Click here to access the 2014 NCCEP/GEAR UP Annual Conference program book.
Click here to access the Sponsor, Exhibitor, and Advertiser Prospectus.

Obama Takes Executive Action on Student Loans


(From The Chronicle of Higher Education)

On the eve of a Senate fight over student-loan refinancing, President Obama is taking executive action to ease students’ debt burdens.

At a White House event on Monday, Mr. Obama will announce that he will expand a law that caps borrowers’ loan payments at 10 percent of their income to individuals with older loans—those who borrowed before October 2007 or stopped borrowing by October 2011.

The president will also announce plans to renegotiate contracts with federal student-loan servicers to provide them with financial incentives to keep students out of default. The percentage of students defaulting on their loans within two years of graduating reached 10 percent last year, the highest rate in nearly two decades.

Matt Lehrich, a White House spokesman, estimated that an additional five million borrowers would qualify for lower payments under the president’s plan.

It’s unlikely that many borrowers will enroll, however. While students’ debt levels are at an all-time high, enrollment in income-based repayment plans has remained stubbornly low, at roughly 11 percent of borrowers. And the new relief won’t be immediate, either—struggling borrowers will have to wait until the end of 2015, to give the Education Department time to issue new regulations.

In an effort to increase participation in income-based plans, the administration has been conducting an aggressive outreach campaign.Last fall the Education Department emailed more than three million borrowers to notify them that they might be eligible for income-based repayment. In January the administration announced an agreement with lntuit Inc. to include a banner on its TurboTax tax-preparation website inviting users to learn more about their repayment options.

Meanwhile, the department’s student-loan servicers have come under fire from regulators and consumer advocates for failing to notify borrowers of all their repayment options and benefits.

Slim Chances for Senate Plan

Monday’s announcement comes as Senate Democrats are gearing up for a vote on legislation introduced by Sen. Elizabeth A. Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, that would allow struggling borrowers to refinance their debt at lower interest rates. The idea has populist appeal, but it won’t get much support from Senate Republicans, who have blocked similar bills by Democrats.

In an email a Senate Republican aide hinted that a filibuster was possible, saying there was “deep discussion” within the party on a strategy for how to proceed.

“We’d be happy to engage in an honest debate,” the aide wrote, requesting anonymity in order to speak frankly about the matter. But since Senate Democrats “won’t let us offer amendments, it’s hard to have a debate on a bill when we can’t mount an effort to change this deeply flawed bill.”

“This is obviously just a political stunt,” he added.

Even if Senator Warren’s measure does pass the Senate, it is unlikely to win approval in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which opposes plans to pay for the measure through a tax increase on millionaires. That means President Obama’s executive action—however incremental—could be the best news struggling borrowers get this election year.

Borrowers with questions about the plan can ask the president himself. He’ll answer them live on Tuesday, in his first Tumblr Q&A.

New $75 Million GEAR UP Competition Announced

U.S. Department of Education

Office of Communications & Outreach, Press Office  

400 Maryland Ave., S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20202     


June 3, 2014

CONTACT:  Press Office, (202) 401-1576 or press@ed.gov

U.S. Department of Education Announces $75 Million GEAR UP Competition

To focus on building successful practices aimed at improving college fit and college readiness for underrepresented, underprepared and low-income students across the country, the U.S. Department of Education announced today the availability of $75 million for two new Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) competitions.

At the Obama Administration’s College Opportunity Summit earlier this year, the Department made several commitments to support low-income students and help more of them pursue a path to college success. The GEAR UP program helps to ensure that all students achieve the necessary milestones that provide a pathway to a strong future. Today, the Department is acting on its pledge to focus this year’s GEAR UP college preparation program on improving both college fit and readiness, so all students graduate from high school prepared for college without needing remedial courses and enroll in an institution that will help them maximize their success.

“College prep programs like GEAR UP can make all the difference in whether many young people from disadvantaged families can pursue a higher education,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “These grants will help provide the mentoring, resources and financial aid that will offer thousands of students the additional support they need to achieve success in postsecondary education.”

In addition to focusing on college fit and readiness, the Department is tailoring this year’s GEAR UP grants to focus on projects that are designed to serve and coordinate with a Promise Zone, which are high-poverty communities where the federal government has partnered and invested to create jobs, leverage private investment, increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities, and improve public safety. This year’s GEAR UP program also places a priority on helping to improve students’ non-cognitive skills and behaviors, including academic mindset, perseverance, motivation, and mastery of social and emotional skills that improve student success. The grants are part of the Department’s focus on increasing the equity of opportunity in America’s schools so that every child – no matter his or her zip code – has a clear path to the middle class. The nation’s schools, teachers, and students have made significant gains, but despite this solid progress, wide gaps of opportunity and achievement continue to hurt many minority, low-income, and other underserved students.

Created in 1998, the grant program has provided funding for academic and related support services to eligible low-income middle and high school students, including students with disabilities, to help them obtain a high school diploma and succeed in college.  GEAR UP provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to offer services at high-poverty middle and high schools, as well as to provide college scholarships to low-income students.

GEAR UP grants currently fund 87 programs that serve approximately 420,000 middle and high school students across the country.

Applications are due by July 7, and grants will be awarded by the end of September. The Department will post further information on the GEAR UP Web page.


Interview: California Teacher of the Year Ang Bracco


Angelo Bracco was recently selected as one of five California Teachers of the Year and is a special education teacher at Solano Middle School in Vallejo, CA, a California GEAR UP School. We are proud Ang is on the GEAR UP leadership team at Solano and was gracious enough to take the time to participate in an interview.

Please tell us about your award and what it means to you

I was recently selected as one of five teacher of the year for the State of California. This was quite an honor since California has over 400,000 teachers. The award was significant to me for a number of reasons. First of all, as I contemplate retirement, this completes a journey that began nearly forty years ago as a law enforcement officer and has culminated as Calif. teacher of the year.

As a Special Education teacher and working with the most challenging of students, this award has brought hope to parents, our district, and our County of Solano. The City of Vallejo has soaring unemployment, is lacking in resources, and crime is high. Students at our school and in my class are proud that one of their teachers is on “You tube”, on T.V., and on the front page of our local newspaper. They are proud of my accomplishments.

The ward has also brought recognition from the Law enforcement community. At a recent retirement dinner for one of my former squad members, I was mentioned prominently not for my service in law enforcement but my recognition as a teacher.

Tell us a little about the community and school.

Vallejo is considered part of the immediate Bay area. Up until 1992, the economy was propelled by a naval shipyard, Mare Island. Many of Vallejo residents worked at the base. When the base closed, there was an immediate impact on the community. Many of the residents left the city in search of work else ware.  Businesses also took a huge hit. Many closed up shop and left permanently. With the exit of jobs from the area, crime, especially in the inner city climbed dramatically. With the tax base slowly eroding, police officers and fireman lost their jobs. Police and fire stations closed.

Schools that were once vibrant also felt the economic impact. With the tax base eroded, funding was cut drastically which eventually led to the closing of several schools in the city, including middle and a high school.

Solano Middle School where I teach has a student population of 720. This is down considerably from just two years ago when Solano Middle had over 900 students. The drop in attendance is attributed to many factors. Some are economic, other include newer schools being built just north of Vallejo in a city named American Canyon. Also another huge factor was the inception of charter Schools in Vallejo. There are currently three charter schools that are fully functional in our city. This has taken away from the population of schools such as ours.

Solano Middle school’s population consists of 38% African American, 35% Asian, 22% Hispanic, and 4% Caucasian, and 1% “other”. Our API score hovers just under 700 points. Until recently, we were on state probation for failure to achieve our academic target goals. We also had financial issues which resulted in a state “take-over” of our fiscal responsibilities. We have since exited this “take over” by the state and once again on solid footing.

Why special education?

I chose to teach special Education for a number of reasons.  As a law enforcement officer for 27 years in both San Francisco and Concord California, I felt my impact on youth would be better served working with special needs students. When I use the word “Special Needs”, this can be defined from being physically challenged, intellectually or emotionally challenged. Not only did I feel my talents could best be used in this capacity but I also wanted to work in a community that was in need of a person like myself that could that could make a difference in a person’s life. Special education offered this opportunity for me. In a number of my presentations, I often refer to “Special Education” as the emergency room for education. As Special Education teachers we are charged with “leveling the playing field” so that our students can compete in an ever-changing world.

You used to be a law enforcement officer. How does this inform your teaching?

I believe my service as a law-enforcement officer has benefitted me as a teacher. The teaching profession was not totally new to me. As a law enforcement officer, I trained new recruits who were new to law enforcement. I also taught “In service training” at our department.  I also was very active in working in the community both in San Francisco and Concord. In fact, while working in Concord, I was recognized by Senator Barbara Boxer for my intervention in the Latino community in helping to prevent the negative gang influence that was so prevalent in their daily lives.

My previous background actually has been a plus for me in the classroom. It has run the gamete of “no body will mess with us because Mr. B. use to be a cop”, to don’t act out with Mr.B., he was a real cop…..and of course I’m asked constantly to tell  stories which I kindly decline to share.

What are some challenges your school community faces.

Probably the biggest concern I have is parent involvement in their adolescent’s education. It’s extremely frustrating when we call for a parent night and a handful of parents participate.  I realize parents work and our population of single parents is huge.  We also, like so many districts, are strapped financially. With all of this being said, were hopeful the Governors new financial formula will benefit schools like ours who endure insurmountable economic odds.

Why is getting students to think about college in middle school important?

For many, college is their ticket out of poverty. If given a clear path to pursue, the road to a better life, a sense of direction. By preparing students on what classes to consider (A/G requirements), they have a purpose and know even during the early academic years of their lives, they began preparing for the future.

How do adults work together to prepare all students to be successful?

The general answer is making sure you prepare your students both emotionally and academically for the educational road ahead. It’s imperative that teachers communicate from early elementary through Middle and finally high school. The key I have found is knowing who your students are. What is it that they respond to, what is their learning style; all of these questions must be answered to have a truly successful student.

How has the school changed with GEAR UP?

GEAR UP has been such a positive force at our school. Student success has many key components attributed to GEAR UP, including academic support, professional development, and family programming to encourage a college culture from middle to high school. The GEAR UP presence has been especially positive here at Solano Middle School. We’ve instituted the PIQE program which is under the GEAR UP umbrella. We’ve completed these programs in both English and Spanish. We’ve had strong parental involvement throughout these sessions. The Education Trust Awards has also been well received by our staff and students. The Professional Development, conferences, all had to the positivity of our ongoing college culture here at Solano Middle School. Our staff acknowledges without GEAR UP support and the influence GEAR UP has on our campus, we would not be nearly as successful without their support.

What does it mean to be a GEAR UP school?

GEAR UP is constantly changing to meet the needs of our students. We know as a staff as a GEAR UP school, we can obtain the latest innovative job skills to further enhance the education of our students. We also know the GEAR UP foundation is steadfast in their approach to reach our target population, low income; First Generation College bound students that require engagement of school leaders, families, and communities. With GEAR UP as a partner, we have the courage and the opportunity to form a strong bound that will benefit all of our students in the middle school and beyond.

What efforts and resources best support creation of a college-going culture?

Many of our students come from a home that education was not paramount in their lives. Although many may have dreamed of attending college, they really didn’t know or have any idea where to start. With GEAR UP providing awareness and guidance to both staff and students, we now feel the pathway is clear and the directional signs are clear. We recently held a job fair where students were exposed to different occupations in the job market. We have a classroom that is solely dedicated to college culture and how to pursue colleges and Universities that students might be interested in.

Other efforts include the Parent Institute for Quality Education, the Latino Family Literacy Project, Family and Schools together (F.A.S.T.) GEAR UP has given us the foundation to expand our horizons to truly create a college culture on our campus.

What can teachers do in any school to best help ALL students succeed?

I don’t want to sound simplistic in this answer, but as we know, I was chosen one of five California Teachers of the Year. I feel I am a very good teacher, not a great teacher that when you walk away from one of my lessons your so awe struck your unable to speak.  No, that’s not me. But what I can tell you as a mentor and coach, if you are able to form a bond between you and your students, and they feel you are that person they can trust and look up to, the battle to higher education has been won.  Although I am a Special Education teacher, my class is filled with students of all walks of life who come to visit me throughout the day. Forming relationships with students who have been unsuccessful in all of their academic endeavors, find a home where optimism and positivity thrive. The fact that students know you’re genuine and care, opens doors that were previously iron clad shut.

How does your school prepare students for and to succeed in college/career?

With the advent of STEAM (Science-Technology-English-Art-and Math). Wall to Wall Academics at the High School level, Project Based Learning, and now with the introduction of the Common Core State standards, we feel our students are being prepared for the next level. We are now teaching Geometry at the middle school level which in the past would have been either a 9th or 10th grade course. As mentioned earlier, we have job/technology fairs and other extra-curricular activities that keep students interest at a high level.

Why is an educated workforce important for strong communities?

A workforce with talent brings jobs and the marketplace to the city in which you live. Without an educated workforce, businesses look outside your realm and either go elsewhere or recruit outside talent. All one has to do is reflect on the success of Silicon Valley. Businesses flock to the San Jose/San Francisco Bay  Area knowing there is a pool of talent there that they can draw from. An educated work force is the key to a community success.

How do teachers ensure access to high quality academics?

Many of our teachers are constantly being exposed to all types of “In service training”. As part of Common Core, we’ve just introduced Project Based Learning, a key component to the common Core. Our teachers at Solano Middle School are committed to the success of our students. We have tireless workers who spend countless hours on their own time to ensure this success of our students. Our teachers participate in the decision making of new adaptions for our district. We’re on the ground floor for higher academics. Our teachers collaborate not just monthly, but weekly and yes even daily to provide the best opportunities for our student’s success.

What are some of the challenges in preparing all students for career/college?

There are many challenges when you’re faced with low-income, poverty, and sometimes a family structure that is not supportive. Once our students get past that all may not be the next NFL running back, the next NBA Super Star, or the next Hot Rapper, and then reality sets in. You never want to lose sight of attaining those goals, but let’s have a back-up plan if were not quite there to meet those challenges. Another challenge that we face in our students is “why is college important, we in our family survived without it”. And that’s the whole focus, why do you just have to exist or “survive”? Why not have a meaningful productive life for you and your family?

Anything else you would like to tell about yourself, your school, or your students?

I personally want to thank the GEAR-UP team for all the support they have given our school. I especially want to thank Michele Molitor, our school service coach. Ms. Molitor is a tireless worker and is always there when we request her services. She visits our school on a frequent basis and is there for special events, for instance at our career fair last week. Having Ms. Molitor as our service coach has been invaluable and provides the foundation for our success here at Solano Middle School.



New Ed-Trust Study on Promising Teacher Evaluation

ETW Logo_600


OAKLAND, CA (May 22, 2014) – The Education Trust—West releases initial findings from a two-year study examining innovative teacher evaluation systems in a new report titled, Beyond Satisfactory: Redefining Teacher Support and Evaluation to Improve Teaching and Learning. The report reveals that teachers and administrators generally experience the evaluation process as an objective and constructive opportunity to reflect on and improve their instruction in order to best serve all students. These systems offer teachers support in ways that are connected with teachers’ deep desires to ensure their students will achieve at high levels. The report also highlights promising practices, and it offers recommendations for improving teacher evaluation and support in California.

“Our teacher evaluation system in California is broken. For far too long, teachers in our state haven’t been able to get the feedback or the supports they deserve,” said Dr. Jeannette LaFors, Director of Equity Initiatives at The Education Trust—West, a statewide education advocacy organization that works to close the opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from their more advantaged peers. “What was so interesting in our study was the extent to which teachers credited the measures and supports of their evaluation system as a way to increase their effectiveness in the classroom. They welcomed the opportunity to reflect on and improve their instruction.”

The study, which was designed to capture how teachers and school leaders across seven districts and charter school networks responded to initial efforts to build coherent evaluation and support systems, found that redesigning teacher evaluation and support is challenging, but rewarding. Teachers described getting more frequent and more meaningful feedback tied to clear expectations for effective teaching. They appreciated the use of multiple measures to inform their performance evaluation, in part because the process is designed to be objective and balanced. They also expressed appreciation for professional development that mutually benefits them and their students.

“What the findings in this study do is reflect what we hear from our teachers and principals. It offers evidence that California can build on the positive momentum being carried out in districts and leading charter organizations across the state towards meaningfully differentiating teachers’ performance and their professional development needs,” said James Gallagher, Director of Instruction at Aspire Public Schools, a charter school management organization participating in the study. “We encourage other school leaders to take this on.”

The findings of the study reveal promising practices and a set of recommendations that chart a course for improving teaching and learning. From making teacher evaluation and support work a top priority to accepting that it will take time to fine-tune, the recommendations developed in the report are offered to help other school and district leaders elevate their standards for teaching.

With over thirty states revamping their teacher evaluation systems, the report recommends California’s legislature take action to ensure that teachers get the feedback and support they need so that all students—including high-need students who have traditionally been denied access to the most effective teachers—get the teaching they need to succeed.

“There are several exciting examples of school systems in California that take teacher evaluation seriously and are forging a path for others to do the same,” said Sandi Jacobs, Vice-President and Managing Director of State Policy at the National Council for Teaching Quality. “State policymakers need to take action now to raise the bar for teacher effectiveness in California for the benefit of all teachers, and ultimately, the students they serve,” she concluded.

To read the full report, click here. To register and participate in The Education Trust—West’s upcoming webinar “Beyond Satisfactory: Redefining Teacher Evaluation and Support” on Wednesday, June 4, from 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., click here. Webinar presenters will include school leaders from districts and CMOs featured in this report.

# # #


About The Education Trust—West
The Education Trust—West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college. We expose opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from other youth, and we identify and advocate for the strategies that will forever close those gaps.

Secrets to Creating a Positive School Culture


As part of our guest blogger series, our very own Whole School Services Coach Michele Molitor provided her recent experience interviewing Karen Webber-Ndour, Executive Director of the Office for Student Support and Safety for the Baltimore City Schools.


What do you get when you combine passion, listening and fierce compassion for others? You get a woman who’s soul purpose is to help students get the education they need to thrive in the challenging community of Baltimore City, MD.

I’m speaking about Karen Webber-Ndour, Executive Director of the Office for Student Support and Safety for the Baltimore City Schools. I recently had the pleasure of talking with her as part of my “Inspired Leaders Raising A Ruckus” Interview Series. http://bit.ly/PositiveCulture

Back in February at the National Council for Community and Education Partnerships Capacity Building Conference in Orlando Florida, I had the pleasure of first hearing Karen talk about her work in Baltimore City.  Her passion for her work really had me sit up and listen. But what truly got my attention was the methodology that she had used to turn around some failing schools in the Baltimore City School District.  She was able to actually and truly, LISTEN to the students, to learn more about what was going on with them in a restorative approach versus making assumptions about their bad behavior and taking punitive actions based on those assumptions.

On the surface level this may sound simple, but in reality it’s actually more challenging than you might think. In my work as a coach, my listening skills are key to the success of my clients and teams that I work with. Listening with not only my ears but with my intuition as well to what is being said along with the unsaid, which actually speaks volumes about the issues at hand. Within the unsaid, you’ll find the deeper range of emotions and challenges that a person is dealing with that has led to their thoughts, behavior and actions. From here, you can ask more curious questions to get at the actual heart of the matter so that conscious and well-informed actions can be taken.

No matter whom you’re dealing with, whether it’s from the boardroom to the classroom, it’s no different — active listening is an often over looked and vital skill. Ms. Webber-Ndour was able to consistently utilize the skills of listening, compassion and respect across the board to deliver amazing results felt by the students, staff and families.

Karen’s unwavering conviction and vision for the sake of the student’s well-being, safety and learning is what has enabled her and her team to transform entire schools. Her approach has given the students a voice that helps to shape their experience and their education through building stronger relationships, increasing healthy communication, placing an emphasis on accountability for their actions while creating respect for others.

From our conversation, it really made me wonder, why is this powerful tool of listening not used in ALL of our schools more effectively? Where are we missing the mark?  From my 13 years of experience as a professional coach, I’ve seen in both education and in corporate America, that most folks just aren’t comfortable dealing with other people’s emotions, let alone their own.  So regularly and consistently dealing with the emotions of the students and the faculty at a school is a big challenge and certainly not for the faint of heart. It takes courage and compassion to be able to stand in the fire with someone when they’re in the midst of an emotionally charged situation.

Karen clearly has demonstrated that she has the capacity for doing so and has enabled and inspired her teams to do the same through her leadership.  This is what I refer to as “Inspired Leadership.” This kind of leadership comes from and through someone who is willing to have the difficult conversations for the sake of the greater good versus what their ego or fears might otherwise dictate.  Both of which often want to hold us back and keep us playing small within the confines of our “comfort zone”.

So how did she create such massive change? In our interview, Karen shared with me that “In a school that is failing, everyone is failing. There was an expectation that anything was allowed.” So changing the mindset first and foremost, from top to bottom was her first priority. Transforming fear-based thinking into words, deeds and actions based on the values of respect, safety and listening for understanding, were just some of the foundational steps that she took with her entire staff, all the way down to the mailman.

When she was faced with opposition from the ‘naysayers’, she went on to tell me that “You have to bring your entire soul to the work and you have to mean what you say. You have to be willing to stand up to any force that will hurt your school – that would have you do something against My Village. You have to have that level of conviction or else it won’t work.”

With this vision and level of conviction, she set out to create a school where everyone wants to be – a paradise if you will – an oasis in the middle of a dangerous city where crime and violence is high and gang activity makes it difficult for a student to walk home safely.

Within this nurturing and caring environment, students can thrive because they feel Safe, Heard and Seen for their brilliance and contributions, large and small. This creates a foundation for them to actually focus on their schoolwork instead of their survival, enabling them to flourish. Student success rates go up. Suspension rates go down (a 24% decline in suspension rates district wide!).

Within this kind of environment where listening for understanding is the norm, students can see their abilities and shine, teachers feel their work is making a difference, families feel welcome and get more engaged with the school community and everyone feels respected.

And thus Everyone wins.

My question for you is this: how can we as the adults, move past our own blocks, fears and assumptions to more effectively create a thriving environment for students at home and at school?

Click here if you’d like to listen to my interview with Karen Webber-Ndour.

For more information on her work: Creating a Positive School Climate: Making School a Place Where Everyone Wants to Be”

Or visit: http://www.baltimorecityschools.org/climate




Save the Date: National GEAR UP Week 2014 Sept 22-26


During the week of September 22-26, 2014 join thousands of students, parents, teachers, partners and college access professionals from across the nation to celebrate GEAR UP and the successes of your hard work and dedication!

National GEAR UP Week is an opportunity for you to raise awareness in your community about the positive impact GEAR UP is having locally.  It’s a time to engage all your stakeholders – local, state and federal elected officials, funders, partners, as well as local, state and regional media – to share your program’s accomplishments and to get them more involved with your services to students and families.

Resources for schools and GEAR UP Programs:

Press & Media

  • Download the National GEAR UP Week logo
  • Media Advisory - This template is to notify media outlets in your area to cover the event you are hosting.  Media advisories are distributed ahead of the event so that outlets can schedule and plan to cover your event.
  • Press Release - This template will help you create some “buzz” about your event.  You can send it out before or after the event takes place, just make sure you edit it accordingly!
  • Op-Ed: Guidelines & Talking Points - Op-eds are a great way to raise awareness about GEAR UP at the local and regional level.  Follow the tips and use the template in this resource to submit your op-ed to your news outlet.


Work in Focus: High School Graduation Rate Tops 80 Percent


LOS ANGELES—For the fourth year in a row, California’s graduation rate climbed as the dropout rate fell, particularly for students of color, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced today.

More than eight out of 10 students statewide, or 80.2 percent, who started high school in 2009-10 graduated with their class in 2013. That is up 1.3 percentage points from the year before (Table 1). Graduation rates among African-American and Hispanic students climbed faster than the statewide average, although the rates remained lower overall. Among African-American students, 67.9 percent graduated with their class in 2013, up 1.9 percentage points from the year before. Among Hispanic students, 75.4 percent graduated with their class, up 1.7 percentage points from the year before (Tables 2 and 3).

“For the first time in our state’s history, more than 80 percent of our students are graduating—a clear sign of their hard work and the support they receive from their teachers, families, and communities,” Torlakson said. “We are continuing toward our goal of graduating 100 percent of our students with the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed.”

Along with the rise in the graduation rate, there was a dip in the dropout rate. Of the students who started high school in 2009-10, 11.6 percent dropped out. That is down 1.5 percentage points from the 2011-12 dropout rate (Table 1). Again, the decline in dropout rates among African-American and Hispanic students compared favorably to the statewide rates. Among African-American students, 19.9 percent dropped out, down 2.2 percentage points from the year before. Among Hispanic students, 14.1 percent dropped out, down 2 percentage points from the year before (Tables 2 and 3).

Another 8.2 percent of students in the total cohort are neither graduates nor dropouts. That group is up 0.1 of a percentage point from 2011-12 (Table 1). A cohort refers to a particular group of students tracked over a given time period. These students either are non-diploma special education students (0.5 percent), other students who elected to take and then passed a high school equivalency test (in this instance, the General Educational Development [GED] Test) (0.2 percent), or still enrolled in school (7.5 percent).

Graduation and dropout rates for counties, districts, and schools across California were calculated based on four-year cohort information using the state’s California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS). This is the fourth time this four-year cohort information was calculated, meaning data may only be compared accurately over the four-year period from 2009-10 to 2012-13. Prior to 2009-10, graduation and dropout rates used different calculation systems and cannot be accurately compared to the cohort rates.

Cohort graduation rates are used to determine whether schools met their targets for increasing the graduation rate for Adequate Yearly Progress reporting under the federal accountability system. The cohort dropout rate is calculated for high school students grades nine through twelve, although some students drop out as early as middle school.

To view and download state, county, district, and school graduation and dropout rates, visit the California Department of Education’s DataQuest. Downloadable data sheets are available on the Cohort Outcome Data Web page. Caution is urged when comparing graduation or dropout rates across individual schools and districts. For example, some county office schools, alternative schools, or dropout recovery high schools serve only those students who are already at the greatest risk of dropping out, compared with the broader population at traditional high schools. Therefore, these individual schools and districts cannot be directly compared.

# # # #

The California Department of Education is a state agency led by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. For more information, please visit the California Department of Education Web site or by mobile device. You may also follow Superintendent Torlakson on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.


Fewer California Students Pass University Requirements



(repost from Daily News)

Fewer than 4 in 10 California high school students are completing the requirements to be eligible for the state’s public universities, fueling worries of a shortage of college-educated workers when the value of a bachelor’s degree has never been higher.To meet entrance requirements, high school students must complete 15 classes with a grade of C or better, including foreign language, lab science, intermediate algebra, and visual or performing arts.

At the current rate, educators and policy experts say, far too few students are finishing high school with the minimum coursework needed even to apply to a University of California or California State University campus. In 1994, 32 percent of public school graduates met the course and grade prerequisites, known as “A-G requirements” because they cover seven subject areas. For the Class of 2012, it was 38 percent.

“We need young adults to be successful in the future economy of our state, and to be successful, an increasing number of them will need to go to and graduate from college. And the A-G course completion share, while it’s going up, is not sufficiently high to meet that economic need,” said Public Policy Institute of California Senior Fellow Hans Johnson, who has estimated the state will have 1 million fewer college graduates than it needs in 2025, if current trends continue.

The sobering numbers do not tell the whole story, according to John Rogers, director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access. Once students who drop out or do not finish high school in four years are removed from the equation, the proportion of public high school graduates who met the UC and CSU entrance criteria in 2012 drops to 30 percent statewide, 20 percent for Latinos and 18 percent for African-Americans, Rogers said.

“They speak to a huge gap between the expectations that parents and students have, which is that if they complete a rigorous high school curriculum they will be college-eligible, and the sorts of outcomes that are emerging from our K-12 system,” he said.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have made a push in recent years to prepare their students for college by updating their high school graduation requirements to include four years of math and English, the course of study that Achieve, a nonprofit education reform group based in Washington, considers essential to post-secondary success.

California’s high school graduation requirements, which have not been substantially revised in more than a decade, only require two years of math, three years of English and no foreign language or science labs. Students hoping to study at one of the state’s 32 public universities must opt into the courses that make up the more strenuous A-G sequence and repeat the classes if they do not earn a C.

For families without previous higher education experience or living in communities without enough guidance counselors, chemistry sections or money for private tutors, “that’s a big hurdle,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of Campaign for College Opportunity. She said she often meets parents and students who are devastated to learn, in the child’s junior or senior year, that they do not meet the entrance requirements for the state’s public universities.

“I always tell folks that not everybody who works at a high school sees it as their responsibility to prepare your kid for college. They see it as their responsibility to get kids to graduate from high school,” said Siqueiros, whose group has examined the college achievement gap for blacks and Latinos in California.

With Latino children now a majority of California’s public school students, community groups increasingly are framing the problem as a civil rights issue and lobbying local school districts to put more young people on the college track by aligning their own graduation requirements with the A-G requirements.

Students in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and several other districts now are expected to complete the 15-course sequence, although they can still earn a high school diploma even if they earn D’s. In Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest, this year’s 9th graders will be required to pass each of the prescribed classes with at least a C by graduation.

“We are not saying every student will be guaranteed of going into college because there are additional requirements the colleges have, a certain GPA being one, a certain score on the ACT or SAT are another,” said Nader Delnavaz, LAUSD’s administrative coordinator for college and career education. “What we are saying is we are not having a two-track or three-track high school diploma.”

In June, San Francisco Unified School District will graduate its first class that had to meet the minimum college entrance requirement. Jessica Hernandez, 17, a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School, had hoped to attend UC Berkeley but got a D in geometry in 10th grade, had to repeat it, got behind in some classes and saw her grades slide.

Hernandez now plans to attend community college and hopes to go to Berkeley as a junior and become the first in her family to earn a degree. Meantime, she has offered advice to her younger sister who will start at Lincoln next fall.

“I’ve already been telling her that if she needs help, there is help here,” she said. “I’ve told her it is stressful, but if you keep up with all your work, it will pay off.”

Administrators say the switch to college-prep for all involves more than doing away with low-level math and science and is not a magic fix. Before San Jose Unified adopted the A-G course requirements starting in 1998, about 37 percent of its graduates were eligible for admission to a UC or CSU school. By 2012, it had risen only to 44 percent.

Thousands of students throughout the state are missing out on being deemed “A-G eligible” by virtue of one or two D grades, says Linda Murray, who was superintendent in San Jose when it updated its graduation requirements and now helps other districts.

That phenomenon suggests the problem is not standards that are out of reach for some but inadequate “safety nets” for young people, said Murray, now superintendent-in-residence for The Education Trust-West, an advocacy group addressing racial disparities in education.

“The right question isn’t: ‘Should every kid go to college?’ The question is: ‘Who should decide?’” Murray said. “It just seems to me the right thing to do is to make sure the doors are kept open so they have good choices when they are 18 years old.”


An Interview With GEAR UP Principal Esperanza Arce


Esperanza Arce is the Principal of the Vista Verde Middle School Cougars in Moreno Valley, CA.

Vista Verde has been a California GEAR UP school for 3 years.


Please tell us about how Vista Verde became STW-TCS redesigned model middle school and as an AVID demonstration school and what it means to you.

Vista Verde became STW-TCS  (California Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage) redesigned model middle school and an AVID demonstration school because of all the hard work and countless hours our teachers, staff, students, and community have dedicated.  Our teachers have common prep periods daily, so they have many opportunities to collaborate as a department and constantly share best practices and strategies.  Additionally, our district office is very supportive giving us numerous opportunities through minimum-day Wednesdays and  district-wide  CORE days to provide professional development to our teachers in best practices/strategies, RTI, PBIS, AIM Lesson Planning, and more.  Every student has Advisory in their schedule; a period of time allocated for school-wide announcements, extra time to complete classwork/homework, once a week anti-bullying lessons, fun activities such as March Madness, and much more. Furthermore, AVID is a priority to us; we offer 9 sections of AVID (3 in each grade-level).  77% of our teachers have received AVID training and soon we will be at 100%.  We also offer rigorous electives such as Spanish and STEM to all of our high-achieving and GATE students.  We provide significant support throughout the day to our various student cohorts.  Our Special Education students receive a Learning Strategies section where they are provided with the opportunity to learn or master study skills and complete assignments from their core classes.  Their Case Carriers have access to their caseload daily via the Learning Strategies and/or their Advisory.  Additionally, they receive support throughout the day.  Our ELD students receive 2 sections of ELD with experienced and expert ELD teachers who also incorporate GATE and AVID strategies.  With over 370 Chromebooks provided by our District Office, our students have access to technology regularly and our teachers incorporate the use of technology in their lessons on a daily basis.  One clear example is the use of these chromebooks during AVID tutorials in content-area subjects.  The aforementioned are only some of the reasons VVMS became a STW-TCS redesigned model middle school and an AVID Demonstration school.

 As a principal, receiving these recognitions can be the highlight of any leader’s professional career, so it means a lot to me.  Many times I try to find ways to validate the hard work of our faculty and staff, but our team is so humble that no matter how great I reiterate to them they are, they simply smile and continue doing a great job.  Therefore, getting these two recognitions, and most recently the CBEE Honor Roll mention, allows my team of faculty and staff to see how valuable they are.  It reinforces their hard work and shows them that others confirm their value.  Vista Verde Middle School is a unique place; there is a true sense of family, collegiality, support for each other, and uniformed vision and mission.  To be the principal of this amazing place is truly an honor.  Words cannot express what Vista Verde means to me; a school that provides a quality education to all students deserves to be recognized; I may be the face, but our staff and students are the heart.

Tell us a little about the community and school.

Our community and school are very diverse.  Vista Verde is in the middle of a large urban community in the center of Moreno Valley.  We are a Title 1 school consisting of students from many different backgrounds and a large range of SES.  The student participation in our various academic programs mirrors our school’s demographics.  We have strong parent support and an involved community.  Over 80% of our student population consists of Latino and African American students.  27% of our student population is in AVID.    Vista Verde Middle School feels like home to our students; they fit in and know we care about them.

Why be a principal?

Any individual involved in education can make a difference.  I am a principal because I wholeheartedly believe in making a difference EVERY DAY.  I help impact the structure of my school to positively affect the quality education we offer our students.  I am a principal because I enjoy working with teachers and staff who are in education, not because it is a job, but because it is a way of living.  We are a team who work together to provide opportunities for those who want to achieve and to change the minds of those who think “they can’t” achieve.  | am a principal because I once thought I couldn’t achieve, but was given the opportunity to do so.

What are some challenges your school community faces?

There are many challenges our school community faces, but some of the more prevalent are the social influences constantly facing our “at-risk” youth.  Vista Verde MS is in the middle of a large city with many pockets of unpleasant influences.  Our students, like many other students, are constantly tempted with these negative social influences.  As a school we are continuously implementing proactive interventions to guide our students through positive pathways, and hence, have the greater impact in their lives.  We do not want to lose our students to drugs, gangs, violence, etc., which are elements of any community, so we work closely with our Student Services department, community resources, and our teachers and parents to provide an environment in our school that we hope to have a long-lasting positive affect in the decisions of our students.  We have done this by creating strong academic programs like AVID, Jr. Scholars, AVID Keepers, SPED-LS, STEM, ELD, and rigorous electives.

Why is getting students to think about college in middle school important?

It is very important to get students to think about college in middle school because for many students thinking about college in high school may be too late.  I worked with high school students for over 10 years and it was very unfortunate to witness many of these students come into high school with little or no knowledge about the college entrance requirements (SAT, A-G, ACT, etc.).  Many high school counselors are servicing over 500 students in their case load; therefore, meeting the needs of their students may be very difficult. Many counselors tend to focus their attention on 12th graders because of priority and time sensitivity, so many 9th to 11th graders tend to get neglected.  Consequently, these students are minimally informed about college/university entrance requirements or options.  Therefore, we have to empower our middle school students to become their own advocates. 

It is never too early to teach our students about a decision that can affect the rest of their life.  The college verbiage should be a constant part of any school.  Every teacher should be talking about college.  I don’t believe that every student will go to college, but I do believe that every student should be given the opportunity to choose to go to college.  If we deprive our students of this essential information, I believe we are robbing them of their choice.  We can never “over inform” students of the college options they have and there is nothing that prevents us from starting in middle school.  As a former high school teacher and administrator, I would be grateful to the middle schools that make this a priority; it will not only increase college-going rates but provide more students with the knowledge of what it takes to make it (of course this is only part of the battle; we must also work on preparing students to be successful once they get to college).

How has the school changed with GEAR UP?

GEAR Up has been instrumental in Vista Verde’s most recent accomplishments.  It has given our teachers the opportunity to get AVID and College Board trained and use the strategies throughout their instruction impacting both AVID and non-AVID students.  GEAR Up has also increased our vertical and horizontal articulation within our school and between our high schools and our feeder elementary schools.  The GEAR Up site leadership team meets regularly and attends critical conferences where the information comes back to the site and is presented to the rest of our staff.  Our GEAR Up coordinator and regional coach/mentor work closely together and are constantly communicating about the latest college activities, updates, information, etc.

Why is an educated workforce important for strong communities?

An educated workforce is important for a strong community because it will contribute to a positive cycle.  The more productive citizens we help develop, the better the workforce, the stronger and more productive the community.  We see this in the research and in the practice.  Our goal as a school is to positively contribute to the community, so that the community can positively contribute to the schools.  It makes sense.  Not all students will stay and live in the communities that help raise them, but many will.

What are some of the challenges in preparing all students for career/college?

Some of the challenges in preparing all students for career/college include the lack of funds to pay for more school personnel.  Increasing the number of school counselors could greatly benefit students.  More funds could increase resources in the school and around the community.  Training and paying our teachers to become college coaches for our at-risk students could greatly benefit preparing students for career/college.  Although we have an amazing AVID program, many of our students could be classified as “transitional-AVID” students.  These students would be placed into an “AVID-type” program where students slowly gain the knowledge and skills to be accepted into the AVID program.  However, more AVID sections would mean the need for more funding.

 Anything else you would like to tell about yourself, your school, or your students?

Vista Verde is a wonderful school and I am so proud to be able to say “…it is ‘my’ school…”  :)  There are many special things happening and there are many more special things in the process of blossoming.  Our school is a GEAR Up School, an AVID Demonstration School, a CBEE Honor Roll School, and a Schools-to-Watch-TCS because our teachers, staff, students, and community work together, have ownership of the school, and truly care.

Vista Verde, besides  being a “School to Watch” for two years and and an AVID Demonstration School, has the good fortune to have a principal, Esperanza Arce, who not only has her vision of educational excellence but also has the wisdom to foster and support the creative efforts of her staff members in attaining this vision.  Except for commute time challenges, I would not hesitate a moment to enroll my seventh grade grandson at Vista Verde.     —Jon Sides, California GEAR UP Whole School Services Coach

For more information on AVID, STW-TCS, GEAR UP, or Vista Verde, check these links out.