Enrolling in college was not part of the path for graduates of the San Antonio (Texas) Independent School District, where 93 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. Shortly after Superintendent Robert Duron, known for raising achievement in the Socorro ISD in El Paso, arrived in 2006, he began to raise the bar in this 55,000-student, predominantly Hispanic, urban district.
Administrators set up a framework of support that includes vocabulary and math programs, career and college planning, and test preparation for college admissions and college placement exams. Last year, the district went a step further and set a goal of having 30 percent of its graduates in 2015 leave with 30 college credits, along with their diplomas.
"We're maximizing opportunities to go to college and making sure no one falls through the cracks," said Duron. "It's really about what happens after high school for all of our students."
Together with SureScore, an Austin-based educational consulting group that develops college-readiness initiatives in low-income districts, San Antonio mapped out a multiyear plan that combines a culture change along with college-preparedness and test prep programs.
Test Prep During the School Day
This low-income district, where kids cannot afford private classes, started its college push in 2007 by incorporating test prep of the SAT into the curriculum. It was a pull-out program for juniors and seniors that took them out of other classes. But that effort highlighted other challenges that needed to be addressed, including that many students, who would be first-generation college-goers, just weren't motivated.
"What we learned from teachers was that we had students in SAT prep classes that weren't even convinced they wanted to go to college," says Roy Nieto, CEO and founder of SureScore. So, they needed to establish a plan for incoming freshmen. When test-prep courses over two years failed to attract the number of students that officials had hoped to see, they shifted their efforts and began to work with students earlier. In 2009-2010, the district and SureScore developed the Freshman Prep course, which includes career- and college-prep activities in which students do projects centered around 16 career clusters. Math and vocabulary development are part of that curriculum, which initially was for the average student. Upon seeing improved attendance and a rise in grades in algebra and English, officials mandated the course for most freshmen.
Added to that course in the 2011 school year will be the creation of personalized plans tailored to take each ninth-grader to graduation. SureScore has an online program that uses data analysis to measure college readiness and recommend a plan of study to get students eligible for dual-credit courses. (They must pass a college placement exam to take a dual-credit class.
San Antonio (Texas) Independent School District
Superintendent: Robert Duron
Students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches: 93%
Students with limited English
Per-pupil expenditure: $7,558
Web site: www.saisd.net
Mary "Betty" Burks, deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction, is pleased with the results. "We tripled the number of students taking dual-enrollment courses," she says. The number of students who took at least one dual-enrollment course rose from 362 in the fall of 2007 to 1,100 last spring, out of about 5,590 juniors and seniors.
The district estimates that meeting its goal of graduating 30 percent of its senior class with 30 college credits would be the equivalent of providing $6 million in college scholarship money. "That's one of the things that motivates us," says Duron. "Knowing that our students are from an urban area and that they are economically disadvantaged, they needed more opportunities to enter college. And we have to be creative and fill that gap for them."
Bev McCarron is a freelance writer from Bridgewater, N.J.