• By Beth Bender

    Too often the good news gets hidden behind the bad. When success is occurring, it should be celebrated; when change for the better is happening, it should be fostered; and when this progress is part of the St. Louis Public Schools, we should be standing up as a region to support and cheer.

    Over the past three years, in the district, attending some form of higher education has become an expectation, not an exception, for our students. Our district and school leaders are committed to developing and preparing students for post-secondary success. As students enter our school buildings, as early as pre-K, they are immersed in an environment that promotes and celebrates higher education whether that is pursuing a certification program, an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree or learning a trade and getting an education through military service. We encourage every student to “Find your path” to a full and successful life.

    The work has been ongoing but it has received an influx of energy through the new Office of College and Career Readiness. Each week, we hold “Collegiate Fridays” throughout the district. We encourage both staff and students to participate. If you walk into any of our schools, or even central office, you’ll see staff clad in their collegiate colors and alma mater branded apparel. Awareness is key, and we are working to send the message that education and training does not end with high school.

    In fact, this school year we have increased our number of College and Career Centers in our schools from five to 13. Thanks to a partnership with the St. Louis Public Schools Foundation, local universities and generous funders, every SLPS high school has a college resource center and college adviser or specialist. Post-secondary planning is key to our students’ success and key to moving us forward as a region with a well-trained and educated population.

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    Our teachers and staff are some of the greatest ambassadors for higher education. They personify the many benefits of attending college or pursuing post-secondary options. As teachers create bonds in their classrooms, they become relatable connections between their students and the various post-secondary institutions they have attended. The student-teacher dynamic is crucial to bridging the gap some students, who may be the first in their families to go to college, have with attending college and seeing life beyond high school. In 2015, a college and career culture must be present at every stage of elementary and secondary education.

    According the Pew Research Center, the median annual salary for a college-degree holder is $17,500 more per year than an individual with only a high school diploma. The income gap between a high school diploma and post-secondary certificate has steadily increased over the past 50 years. This trend shows no sign of changing. With this, we also know we must help students decide what step is best following high school graduation. In doing so, our work is not just about getting students into college, the military or a career training opportunity. Our work is to help them find the right path and the right fit for their long-term goal and at the right price.

    We have made amazing progress toward achieving our college and career readiness goals. Within the past year, SLPS has seen a 5 percentage point increase in post-secondary placement, rising from 75.4 percent to 80.5 percent. Additionally, overall student achievement is on an upward move across the board. From 2013 to 2015, the percentage of SLPS students taking the ACT, SAT, Compass and ASVAB and earning qualifying scores has increased by 8 percent.

    We have much more work to do, but it is happening with a districtwide passion and more doors than ever are opening for our students. The St. Louis region is fortunate to have a myriad of college access organizations and universities that make first-generation, low-income students their priority. As a region we need this, as a district we are living it.