• by Hector Bojorquez • IDRA Newsletter • April 2014 •Hector Bojorquez

It would be a mistake to think of what is happening at PSJA as a program or a collection of initiatives or just a district that has a college-going culture. It is more accurate to think of PSJA’s transformation as that of a district that made a conscious decision to scale-up early college high school models to the entire district. It is a transformation that raises, in actual fact, the expectations for all students. In this publication we explore how PSJA has accomplished such a radical transformation so that others may advocate for similar transformations in their community schools.

These principles come from reviewing hours of interviews and observations. They were gleaned from many thoughts and statements made by key staff, but are the solely result of viewing PSJA’s processes through IDRA’s change model: the Quality Schools Action Framework. These principles are how we best present the process in which a district can make similar changes and is not meant to represent PSJA’s evolving policies. Families, educators, principals, superintendents, school boards and policymakers are invited to take away the following key principles from this document.

1. All students should be prepared for a college and career-ready future.

Every student needs to be prepared for the future through a rigorous curriculum taught by qualified teachers in a school culture of high expectations. The recipe for preparing a student is not new and includes equitable funding, rigorous curriculum, qualified teachers, and engaging and meaningful educational practices. These concepts need to be applied to all students and not just to the top 15 percent of students who are deemed college-bound. As has been said of standardized tests, success in education is not a measure of intelligence, but what a lifetime of opportunity and privilege can afford. This is the role for the 21st century educator, to provide equitable educational opportunities to all students from prekindergarten to college completion.

2. Making high school more like college serves all students.

At the heart of PSJA’s transformation is a well thought out plan to transform the entire system into an early college district. Most of the changes you will read about deal with how PSJA has made college available to all students while being in high school. This is nothing short of revolutionary and must be taken as the most important change, since the entire system had to change to facilitate that goal.

3. A career-ready future is a college-bound future and not an end run to a vocational education.

Career readiness initiatives must begin with the assumption that, in this modern world, there are no shortcuts to a successful career that do not include a college-bound future. It is a fact of modern life that without the rigor of college, students are ill prepared to succeed and maintain a good life full of economic opportunities. As the crash of 2008 reminded us, one can no longer be prepared only to work in industry or construction jobs because of the volatility of the free market. At any moment, the world hiccups, and our jobs are outsourced or vanish altogether because of technological advances. Educators must assume that all students must be prepared for uncertainty by preparing them with the highest rigor and not for lowest common denominator jobs.

4. Transforming our schools means transforming entire systems.

IDRA has long held that to achieve equitable educational opportunities for all children, entire systems must be assessed and overhauled. From more than 40 years of research and experience, IDRA has outlined what systemic change looks like in our Quality Schools Action Framework. We propose that schools are systems with outcomes, inputs, fundamental needs, change strategies, change agents and valid data. Simply put, equitably funded school systems are transformed when families and educators know what is happening in our schools and take meaningful actions to change practices and policies. It is a framework where every aspect of educational systems is to be examined and transformed.

It is in that spirit that the PSJA experience embodies a simple but powerful message: Entire systems must change to transform. It is not enough to change one policy, set lofty goals, provide one training, change staff, institute a groundbreaking program or even change superintendents. Transformation occurs when educational institutions are viewed as systems with parts that work together, where expectations are raised at all levels, and groundbreaking approaches affect everything and everyone. As you read this document, keep in mind that simply taking one piece of the PSJA experience and implementing it will not be enough to transform a school district. If anything, this document is an appeal to families, educators and policymakers to look at changing the whole and not simply individual parts of a school system.

5. Data transparency is an absolute prerequisite for authentic change to occur.

A problem cannot be addressed without knowing the full extent of the situation. A school or district cannot fix a problem if it is not acknowledged that something needs to be fixed. When negative data arise, we must seize the opportunity to find causes and work toward addressing those issues. Too often in education there exists an unfortunate tendency to disregard bad news by killing the messenger or switching to brighter news. The public is left to wonder about the integrity of educators when we are not completely transparent about our challenges as we are about our successes. As you will see throughout this document, PSJA’s leadership insists on being honest about data in order to honestly identify problems, set goals, evaluate progress and maintain positive community relationships. When everyone knows about challenges, everyone can share in bringing about solutions.

6. Schools—not students, not families, not neighborhoods—must change.

This is a powerful idea that must take root in the hearts and minds of all educators. When we are hit with bad news, poor test scores and poor college success data, all our thoughts must begin with the following question: “How can we change our schools to change this outcome?” Too often the responses offer a litany of mostly well-intentioned, refrains: “We must take care of the poverty issue before we can fix our schools.” “Our parents need to be well educated for our scores to go up.” “Language differences have caused this decline.” “You can’t expect poor children to do any better.” Unfortunately, all of these sentiments can lead us to accept ideas, educational policies and practices that diminish the importance of higher education for all students. We must change our institutions to see our students and families as part of the solution rather than the source of the problem. IDRA has provided leadership in viewing families and students as assets instead of problems to be fixed, and, again, PSJA has shown success by implementing policies that embody this attitude.

Note: The following is an excerpt from College Bound and Determined, released by IDRA in February 2014. The full publication is available free online at http://budurl.com/IDRAeNcbd14.

Hector Bojorquez is an education associate in the IDRA’s Field Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via email at feedback@idra.org.

[©2014, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2014 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]