Consortium Matters

Cecilia CunninghamThe landscape of American education is rapidly adjusting to higher standards, more frequent testing and higher stakes for educators and students alike. Though Arne Duncan issued a temporary reprieve on roll out till 2016, the Common Core State Standards have been adopted by 45 states and teacher and school evaluation will be intimately and legally bound to how rapidly and effectively student performance climbs up these ladders.

Also in the news is the Supreme Court decision on Affirmative Action which addresses the post-Great Recession America question: Which is the bigger barrier to opportunity-race or class? Though racial barriers certainly still exist, a mountain of evidence exists that quality higher education is tilting further toward the already wealthy.

It’s for these reasons that the 2013 MCNC Summer Conference is focused on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the issue of poverty as it impacts aspirations of all American youth.

MCNC and its member schools and colleges pride themselves in championing the disenfranchised and supporting all students to be college and career ready. Latest data (2011-2012) from NCREST studied 25 schools and almost 7000 students in grades 9-13.  These students represented 67% Black and Hispanic youth with 63% receiving free or reduced lunch. On both criteria of minority identification and poverty, MCNC schools have demonstrated consistent success at the schools and beyond, into post-secondary education. Ninety percent of middle and early college students in the Consortium had taken college courses during their time in high school. The most recent cohort accumulated 33.7% college credits-equivalent to more than one year of college coursework.  This is the highest average over the past seven years. Furthermore, college course taking twelfth graders have performed consistently over that time period with last year’s cohort earning a GPA average of 2.75. Ninety two percent of our graduates declared the aspiration to continue with their education upon graduation and data confirmed that 90% of the 2010-11graduates enrolled in a post-secondary institution.

MCNC appreciates the  mission to support  its membership with the current language, systems and strategies to maintain success in the national arena. This year’s focus on Common Core State Standards is designed to bring those research based practices to all it’s members. Intruding them to specifics strategies, incorporating differentiation and writing across the curriculum, as well as quality performance based mathematics instruction will serve to better prepare all students to meet the challenges of successful simultaneous high school- college attendance and completion with greater independence, confidence and performance.

The current focus on the impact of poverty and class on all of our students

Was recently brought back to my attention when I attended the MCNC Student Leadership Conference in Columbus, Ohio. The Mid Ohio Food Bank engaged students and teachers in a poverty simulation that sensitized us to the hidden influence poverty has on connecting youngsters and their families to education, aspiration, self efficacy and ultimately, reaching their potential. We are fortunate to be able to recreate this experience for all our attending members and we know they will, in turn, bring it back to their faculties and communities to use to propel us ever forward regardless of the current trends.

Early College in Houston

by Justin Fuentes, former Dean of Students and Principal at Challenge Early College, MCNC Board Member, and currently School Support Officer for all of the Houston ISD Early College High Schools

houston graduates2It has been my pleasure to have been with the HISD Early College Initiative since its inception, I am Justin Fuentes, once Dean of Students and Principal at Challenge Early College, and serve as a board member for the MCNC, and currently am School Support Officer for all of our Early College High Schools.  To brag a bit, two of our schools have achieved National Blue Ribbon Award status, all of our schools have achieved an Exemplary rating via the Texas Education Agency, about 50% of our graduates have achieved an Associates Degree while all have left with college credits, many of our students have gone to Ivy League schools, participated in Internships abroad, and even served our country through military service. More than a few are currently working in HISD, and even my own son was a graduate from our schools.  This is our story.


In the early 2000’s, during the peak of the small schools movement, a discussion was going on in Houston around how to build schools for the many different subsections of its expanding community.  This was also a time when funding in public education was plush, so it wasn’t only our public K-12 schools that were looking for alternatives to student success.

In Houston, the driver of this conversation was the Houston A+ Challenge.  This organization was an offshoot of the Annenburg Foundation that had been pumping major funding into public education with a focus on changing it from traditional to something new.  They had been working with Houston Independent School District (HISD) for some time in the areas of professional growth, communication, and collaboration through the use of theories and structures such as Critical Friends Groups, Professional Learning Communities, Data-driven Instruction, etc.  They now wanted to help develop a school where all of these were tenets for both adult- and student-level growth and learning.

After much research into the new and exciting constructs that were being promoted for schooling nation-wide, the Houston A+ Challenge saw an opportunity via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and their newly promoted Early College High Schools Initiative.  These were to be schools that sit on a college campus where students earn both their high school and college Associate’s Degrees concurrently.  This not only created a need for a partnership with HISD, but also one of the many institutions of higher education in the city of Houston.

Provided the high pace of funding for new and innovative programs for students of all levels, the local community college had a need to provide alternative methods to attract students to its doors and to do it fast.  When Houston Community College (HCC) was approached by Houston A+ Challenge about the opportunity to host an Early College it was an easy win.

In 2003 Challenge Early College was opened, closed, opened, closed again, and finally reopened one month before school started.  Challenge became one of the new innovative schools that HISD was opening and others in the state of Texas started to notice.

After two successful years of educating students and partnering with HCC, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) partnering with the Texas High School Project and Jobs For the Future came to Challenge to use it as its primary replication site for the state initiative.  During the 2005-2006 school year upwards of 100 different school districts came to visit and see if Early College was in their future, currently there are over 50 in the state of Texas, 9 in the Houston metropolitan area, and 4 in HISD with another on the way.

With the addition of the new school given a victory in our current bond initiative, we will have an Early College at every compass point within the city of Houston.  Currently Challenge is in the west, East ECHS on the east side, North Houston ECHS on the north side, Houston Academy of International Studies ECHS is located in the downtown center of our city, and the new school will reside on the south side of the city sprawl.  These strategic placements maintain service to all communities in our city, allow for less student travel given that HISD’s Early Colleges are not provided with district transportation, and provide for continuity between the various campuses within HCC.


Given the variation in the HCC campuses where the HISD Early College’s reside, there is some difference in the programs provided by each.

  • Challenge and North Houston are located on large campuses which allow for students to be embedded into about ninety percent of their college courses, With a focus on general AA/AS degrees at the college the credits that the students accrue are similarly focused on generalized degree requirements.
  • East is on a campus where their building was constructed before the college campus so a majority of their classes are taught in a cohort fashion, again with a focus on generalized degree requirements, but a bit more on math and science than the other schools.
  • The Houston Academy of International Studies, as its name describes, pushes students toward coursework in international business and communication while the majority of their students take embedded coursework while having to take a bus to the college campus at the main building which is five blocks away.
  • The new school on the south side of town is going to specifically have a STEM, or Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics, focus, and since it is on a college campus also being built, the students will likely take the majority of their coursework in cohort classes.


The five Early College High Schools in HISD are under the supervision of one administrator, or School Support Officer, which provides for a sharper focus on their needs.  The schools have always shared a kinship and collaborated regardless but working under the leadership and within a common structure their opportunities and resources are optimized.  The Early College High Schools, with other charter schools, have created a “small schools league” which started with school based soccer teams and now has expanded to other sports of student interest.  They have always shared information regarding college textbook pricing, school staffing, course alignment, and specific details of running their unique schools.


In the last two years they have formed a “small schools collaborative” in which they hold common professional development sessions in pre-service days and throughout the school year.  Here they make time for teachers of similar subjects to collaborate on curriculum and instruction and build benchmark exams to gauge student progress toward success on state tests.  They have also done inter-school Instructional Rounds so that their small departments get to see how others work and provide constructive feedback for the school hosting the session.  The collaborative has even decided to make the MCNC’s Peer Review process a common structure.


Extending their work to continually improve their schools there is still work done with the other local Early Colleges, and currently three of the four campuses belong to the MCNC.  In HISD these schools are looked upon with respect as they are extremely successful, but still must maintain and educate others to the point that they are not schools for the easily educated or students from prosperous backgrounds – they truly are Early College’s by the Gates definition!


To get a true snapshot of each of the Houston ECHS’s read what their principal’s have to say:

  • Challenge Early College/Tonya Miller:
    •  I am Tonya Miller, and I have had the privilege of serving Houston’s early colleges since 2008. Prior to becoming the Principal of Challenge in July of 2011, I was the Dean of Instruction at North Houston for three years. There, I was also involved in the planning and groundwork in the months leading up to the opening in August of 2008.
    • Early college in Houston has created equity in education for traditionally underrepresented students who now have the opportunity to receive both a college education and Advanced Placement coursework.  At Challenge, we have closed the achievement gap between subgroups of students. The expectation and program design is such that all races, ethnicities, regardless of socio-economic background achieve. Our relationships with students and the mentorship they receive are what ensure student success in a rigorous program that exposes them to real college classes at an early age. Our location, inside of a college building, affords students the unique opportunity of a true college experience which includes both the opportunities, exposure to a diverse student body and ideas as well as the challenges. Students grapple with paying fees, registering for classes, college placement exams and having conversations with professors and college officials. To brag a bit, our senior class of 2012 left with $3.1 million in scholarships, and the class of 2013 will surpass that amount. One hundred percent of students who apply to four year universities are accepted.  Esteemed publications such as the Washington Post, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report all list us as one of the top high schools in the nation. We were also named a 2011 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Dept of Education. I am proud to say that Houston Early College runs through my veins!
  • East Early College/Tamera Bolden:
    • Early College in Houston has grown from what was first thought to be another flash in the pan that would disappear, to a safe haven for Houston’s at-risk students.  Our students would most likely disappear within a large comprehensive high school. They would be the ones to flounder, get into trouble, or drop out due to family situations.  When we first opened in 2006, we were largely ignored.  After years of consistent high achievement and attendance rates, opinions changed.
    • East Early College recruits solely from the East and Southeast regions of Houston.  The needs of students on the Eastside are different from those North, South, or Central.  We utilize local resources such as area YMCA’s, Neighborhood Centers/Ripley House, local businesses and local residents.  Our students do required community service hours in elementary and middle schools, the facilities named above, local libraries as well as city-wide.
    • One early concern was a lack of transportation as a factor that might hinder success, but at East Early College our attendance has ranged from highest to second-highest among HISD high schools (98.1-98.8% between 2006 and 2012).  This is due to our constant monitoring and counseling of students and families about attendance, which as we know, generally stems from social or economic issues.
    • The consistency of excellence has been achieved through all of us sharing within the collaborative and by all of us holding firm to the early college principles of rigorous instruction, relevance by exposure to college-bound culture, and close relationships with our students and their families.  All five EC principals and our School Improvement Officer Justin Fuentes ensure that the team not only targets populations underrepresented on college campuses, students of low SES, minorities, and first-generation college goers, but also supports them with social workers, advocacy/advisory and constant monitoring by deans and college access coordinators.
  • Houston Academy for International Studies Early College, Principal Melissa Jacobs:
    • The Houston Academy for International Studies was started as primarily an international studies school in the Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network.  We began with a focus on “internationalizing” our inner-city students with Model United Nations, language study and world travel and the thought that they could also earn some college credit.  In our 3rd year we applied for and received a TEA grant to become an Early College High School.  This gave us the structure, planning protocols, and authority to begin getting our student on the track to earning an Associate’s Degree with their high school diploma.  The paradigm shift from offering the world and some college credit to the world and an Associate’s degree has been a big one.  Getting our “at-risk” and economically disadvantaged students to step outside their current reality and see their role as global citizens and college scholars has been both challenging and rewarding.
  • North Houston Early College, Principal Angela Lundy-Jackson:
    • North Houston Early College High School operates on the philosophy that people should and can be lifelong learners.  To that end, as we interview perspective students our focus is not primarily on how far they have come, but rather how far they wish to go.  We strive to provide a rigorous curriculum that is in line with the state standards, but which goes further than what is required.  Our students are varied in their academic abilities, interests, and plans, but they all have a common goal of attaining admission to a four year college or university.    Our school serves students who are mostly from the North Houston community.   Because many of our students are first generation college students, they instill a sense of pride to their families and their neighbors.  We serve the students who are underrepresented in the academic arena: the poor, the immigrants, the minorities, and the at-risk.  Our faculty, too, come from different backgrounds and diverse educational levels.  All have Bachelor’s, most have Master’s, and some have Doctorates.  Their differences are eclipsed only by their passion to see the students succeed and to ensure that they learn more than test preparation, but life skills which will guide them into greater research and discovery.
    • North Houston Early College High School is in its fifth year of operation.  Last year, we graduated our first group of seniors and over half of them (67) earned Associates degrees along with their high school diplomas.  The class as a whole was awarded over 2.3 million dollars in scholarship money, and most were admitted to 4 year universities.  This year, members of our senior class have  received full ride scholarships, admittance into universities all over the country, membership into the prestigious Posse Foundation, and awards for community service.  At North Houston Early College High School, our students’ tomorrow begins today.


And a final word from Justin Fuentes….

We have maintained the vision that we started with, making both children and adults be continuous learners, and what makes me most proud is that our schools are places where people want to be, which includes me.



Middle College Student Leadership Initiative Tackles Healthy Communities

In this time in our history what could be more appropriate than the question: What Makes a Healthy Community? With natural disasters pummeling our coastlines, prairies, and descending, upending and challenging all our status quos, we need “community” more than ever to offer the support and pool resources. So it was against that backdrop that The Charles School, in Columbus, Ohio framed the 2013 MCNC Student Leadership Conference.

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The Charles School was perfectly poised to lead this discussion as it is unique in the MCNC network for it’s membership in a kindergarten through University network. Educating youth, beginning with the Graham Family of Schools and ending at Ohio Dominican University it reaches a broad spectrum and works with each to address unique challenges, while developing a collaborative network of students and educators. Comprised of four k-12 schools, led by Greg Brown, each institution prides itself for Expeditionary Learning, a feature that engages students in active roles within the community in a variety of ways. The Middle School promotes job shadowing and internships, the high school immerses students in two week long Expeditions each year and partnerships with the University, local hospitals, social service providers, etc connect students to the “real world” and community building from a very early age.

Adding to the excitement of a great partnership and host of new activities, after 20 years of conference development for youth and three years of building a unique program combining college coursework, community service and on line networking, MCNC undertook to produce a 40 minute documentary, “Walk With the Dreamers,” which featured the journey of 5 students from diverse geographical, economic and cultural backgrounds through the steps of preparing, coming and participating in the conference. The film’s first twenty minutes were brought to Ohio two days prior to everyone’s arrival and the final sections were filmed, edited and then premiered on the spot with the assistance of local production teams from Mills-James Media.

MCNC SLI 2013 was a breakthrough in imagination, process and opportunity for everyone involved.  40 Host Ambassadors from The Charles School worked with advisors, Chris Spackman and Michele Lowry for 9 months and created an experience that broke the mold. Students from 24 schools across the country arrived and engaged in an icebreaker designed by Junior, Tobechi Titus. They were sent to rooms to meet their conference teammates from around the country and tasked to create “indispensible” buildings for healthy communities. The buildings were made of painted milk cartons (yay! Recycling) and students painted, papered, and collaged their creations before locating them on a huge model city. Over dinner, they met in tables and began the serious work of talking about serious issues that produce unhealthy communities and using the information and homegrown projects they had spearheaded all year to offer solutions for safety, housing, education, welfare and heathcare concerns. The degree of involvement and quality of proposals was staggering and students bonded around intellectual agendas from day one.

The next day was physically challenging. An entire day of high and low ropes courses, GPS tracking, team sports, archery and tomahawk throws. By the evening’s campfire teams had become families, frightened youngsters had been supported to dangle from belay harnesses and everyone was ready to bed down in preparation for the two days of REAL WORK ahead. Months of planning and working with The Graham Schools’ Debbie Addison yielded 24 sites where students worked, learned, and explored the “healthy” side of Columbus, Ohio. They worked on planting at Franklin Conservancy, organized materials at Habitat for Humanity, observed human dissection at Ohio Health and toured The Children’s Hospitals’ latest innovations in making young children with serious health problems feel like ”kids.” They engaged in two days of Yoga training, worked with autistic youth, engaged in poverty simulations and boxed more food than the Ohio State Football Team in one hour, breaking records at the Mid Ohio Foodbank. Potential journalism students visited the Columbus Dispatch and the local news station and got to cuddle a baby kangaroo!

When all was said and done, the students were exhausted, but still not done with their work. They joined in four groups representing the core pillars of the conference: Healthcare, Social Services, Arts and Recreation and Education and pooled their information and ideas and made a report to the assembled group, dressed in their party best for the film Premiere at the IMAX screening at COSI (Center of Science and Industry).

Needless to say, seeing yourself magnified 10,000 fold is an awesome experience and the film heralded the passion, intelligence and beauty of these students, all that came before to build this program and those who will follow and make it even better in the years to come.

The SLI program is not just a conference or a school trip for deserving students. The conference preparation relies heavily on using social media to spark deep conversation and transfer of knowledge. Each September hosts work with Megan Lee, MCNC SLI Intern and Terry Born, to develop a survey that all national participants take when they join the SLI Facebook Community, MCNC Student Voices This survey raises questions and concerns that youth around the country have and starts to conversations within each school. Which has more influence: good or bad communities? Do healthy communities inevitably survive or do unhealthy communities with power hold the most sway? These are some of the issues raised by our young people. As we move, now, to the issue of Social Justice, we foresee explorations of immigration, prison reform, educational equity and opportunity and religious persecution to name a few.

Each weekend MCNC and the hosts post questions that have been grappled with in their classes and in their research and a lively forum ensues including youth from every corner of our nation. These discussions also arise from the initial Pecha Kuchas that are posted by the SLI Innovation Lab schools. The Pecha Kuchas, (10 slides, 10 seconds of narrative) are used to share team focus in each school. As the year progresses students participate in Open Mic and upload original videos of their work in the Community and a mini TED Talk they make for their student body. This year we will be adding the MCNC Poetry Café and Gallery, where members will post original artwork and videos of orginal poetry and Rap

It’s always been our hope that the MCNC Student Conference had an “afterlife” and this year we have seen evidence of that truly happening. From Brooklyn College’s great mentorship project: Senior Letters to the NYC schools volunteering at Soup Kitchens, City Harvest and local pantries, we see the lasting impact this program has on those who have participated. On a recent outing which gathered SLI alumni from four schools, students said:  “We don’t feel like we finished the work with community. The conference only showed us what we could do. Now we can come back to our hometowns and actually do it. “


MCNC Makes a Movie

This year, after 20 years of expanding student leadership, challenges and accomplishment, MCNC produced a documentary. “Walk With the Dreamers” was conceived at the Los Angeles SLI Conference in 2012, when several extraordinary teachers (Alex Brilliandt of Greer Middle College High School and Matthew Osmon of Mott Middle College,  broached the concept to Terry Born, coordinator of the SLI  Program. The Los Angeles experience was so well organized and the students so committed and passionate about their role in shaping the future of our country that it seemed a lost opportunity that no one had captured these young adults in their formative development and the program that honed their passion into positive community change. Twelve schools contributed to the film’s first section which chronicles 5 students: Adina Guzman of RFWagner Jr. SSAT, Ralphy Lopez of Brooklyn College Academy, in NYC, Cesar Romero of El Centro,MCHS in Dallas, Alyx Farkas of Greer MCHS and Chloe Schockling of Brashier MCHS in Greenville, on their journey to the conference. The final segments document the events and learning curve that these students, joined by 200 peers, experience in Columbus. The film is a masterful combination of process and human interest and is designed to be both teaching tool and fundraising vehicle. Written and directed by Terry Born and Megan Lee, it was made possible by the volunteer work of Alex Brilliandt, Matthew Osmon, Alexis Crawford (Academy of Health Sciences in Md.) and the extraordinary contributions of German Vargas, professor of film and video and editor from Costa Rica.

Copies are available at and for a small fee, which will be used to support the program.

You can also make a tax deductible donation to and select “film”

A taste of the dream can be seen at



Seattle Public Schools and Seattle University join forces

A memorandum of understanding (mou) was created between Seattle University and Seattle Public Schools.  A  new campus was opened in the city central district.  The new Superintendent Jose L. Banda and University President Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J. spoke to the years of work to get this fare. Congratulations are in order.


By Cleo Crank, Teacher, Greenville Technical Charter High Schools, Greenville, SC

“You haven’t made a fire till it has burned.

You haven’t made a dollar till it’s earned,

And no teaching has transpired,

If the child has not acquired,

You haven’t taught a child till he has learned.”


Swen Nater, NBA star player Inspired by John Wooden


Interns Working in Groups

High school seniors often excel in factual knowledge, but fall short in key academic behaviors. How can we better prepare our students for the “real world” of college and work? Greenville TCHS’s career internship program promotes a college career culture and helps make the senior year one that is challenging and meaningful.

“You can be anything you want to be!” Parents and teachers promote this idea every day. It is the American dream….. Right? The problem is, wanting something is not the same as achieving it, anymore than talent is the same as accomplishment. I will never be the next Monet. No matter how many watercolor classes I take or pictures I paint, it is not going to happen. My talent does not match my desire. Unless my dreams match my strengths, I will fail. We have all had students who want to be doctors, lawyers, astronauts, yet they cannot write a good paragraph or complete simple math equations. What about the students who have little aspiration but tons of talent and ability? Are we doing these students a service by encouraging them to be “ANYTHING YOU WANT”? Not really. How can teachers help students maintain their aspirations within a viable, realistic doable frame? Creating the Internship Program at GTCHS gave me the perfect venue to do just that.

Five years ago, I approached our principal about the possibility of starting an Internship program as an alternative to our required senior project. He suggested I do some research to see what other schools around the country were doing. I went to several conferences, talked to local businessmen, and read several articles and books on college/career readiness. Across the board, everything was positive but limited in practical application.

I was left to my own devices to create a program to meet our needs. I spent a summer putting together the current program that is designed for motivated high school seniors interested in a structured, on-the-job learning activity. In providing experiences in workplace settings, students develop workplace competencies, work amicably and productively with others, and acquire knowledge, skills, and attitudes they will need to be successful citizens in the 21st century. Students gain hands-on experience by working with professionals in their select career cluster. At the work site, students are supported by a company employee (community mentor) who directs their work and learning. To connect the work experience to school, each student sets college readiness goals.

Students undertake this internship program for a variety of reasons. As a form of independent study, students enjoy the opportunity to engage in a learning experience that augments classroom learning and extends beyond the traditional classroom walls. An internship is an excellent tool for testing out a career interest, giving students first-hand knowledge of a particular professional field. Most important, youth gain real work experience while learning how to conduct themselves in a professional workplace environment. They observe first-hand how skills relating to decision-making, problem-solving, teamwork and technology are employed on the job.

Greenville’s internship program is two semesters long. Most students come to the Internship program with some idea about a career. However, they spend the first three weeks doing on-line personality and career interest inventories. They reflect on the suggestions given by the inventories and how these suggestions influence their career choices. In addition, students do research on their top three college choices. They learn about required SAT scores, other admission requirements, degrees offered, tuition and fees, and availability of student aid. They chart their research and decide on colleges to visit.

During their internship time, students set both college and career goals each quarter and reflect on their progress at the end of each quarter. They also keep daily logs of their work experiences. In all of these reflections, one sees an upward curve of engagement. Students go from generalized ideas about their career and colleges to attend, to very specific career pathways and decisions on the college to attend. One sees the increased engagement in the internship as students go from being primarily observers to full-scale involvement in their work, complete with questions and suggestions for/from their mentors. In their writings you can just see their goals becoming much more specific and targeted and the upward curve of their own involvement in the internship.

In the relatively short time that the program has been in existence, the pool of mentors has greatly increased. In some cases, students or parents seek out mentors. In other cases, previous mentors are more than willing to work with new students. Mentors have had overwhelming positive experiences with students who are excited about their industry and the pleasure of learning about those careers.

I have some incredible success stories. Zach never had any intention of earning a bachelor’s degree. He wanted to work for the sheriff’s department and investigate crime scenes. After interviewing several professionals, he visited the Coroner’s office and did his placement there. Because of his success, he now wants to go to


Zach learning “hands on”

med school and become a pathologist. Devin knew he wanted to become a civil engineer. His mentor was not only a Kevinprofessional engineer but also taught upper level engineering classes at a Clemson University. Devin was able to participate in the University Engineer’s day along with the graduate students. Rebeccah did her placement at a high-end restaurant, was offered a summer job there and is headed to culinary school next semester. Kevin had his heart set on atten­ding the Air Force Academy and com­pleting Combat Rescue Officer School. Through the Internship pro­gram, he com­pleted more than 200 hours with the Emergency Medical Services and participated inall the emer­gency calls while with his mentor. Although Kevin did not get accepted into the Academy, he went to Clemson through the ROTC program and plans to attend Officer Candidate School upon graduation. He is right on target.

Students are assessed in a variety of ways. As part of the requirements, students research their particular career, set monthly goals, keep a daily log, and complete the required number of hours on site. At the end of the year, they meet for “conversation” with their advisor, another faculty member, the mentor and a colleague of the mentor. These four adults have the privilege of hearing about the student’s learning experience and conclusion about the career.

Feedback over the last three years has been very positive. In 2010 when the program began, I started with 20 students. The next year I had 22, and this year there are 31. The program is working. It is a win-win for all involved. The students begin to see a clear path, parents recognize a new sense of maturity and responsibility, the mentor is most impressed with our students, and I have the pleasure of watching all this unfold each year. On the last day for seniors each year, I have a seminar in which the students give me feedback about the experience. Most of the adjustments that have been made come directly from student suggestions. I even have mentors call me now to see it there is a student for this year. WOW!


Underutilized College Resources and High School-College Partnerships

By Sabine Zander, The National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST)


It’s all about relationships. This was the consensus reached among participants of the NCREST workshop, “Taking Advantage of Underused College Resources and Support Services,” at the Middle College National Consortium Summer Professional Development Institute 2012. The four-person panel consisting of Deb Shanley, Dean of School of Education, Brooklyn College; Mary Abbott, High School Counselor, Career Education Center, Denver MCHS; Maria Estrada, College Counselor, Santa Ana College; Joyce Mitchell, Academic Director, Memphis City  Schools; shared strategies and obstacles encountered in developing school-college partnerships at their sites. This provided the context for an interactive discussion and follow-up activity with workshop participants on what can contribute to better partnerships between middle college high schools and colleges.


Partnerships with institutions of higher education are a key feature distinguishing middle college high schools from typical traditional high schools. Partnerships can take on many different forms, but typically stakeholders from the high schools, colleges, and sometimes other external organizations, work together to make key organizational, financial, and academic decisions that will determine the shape of the collaboration—and the school. In addition to being able to take college classes, middle college high school students typically have access to a range of college resources, such as college libraries, computer labs, and tutoring services. However, NCREST’s survey research has found that in many cases, early college high school students are underutilizing these college resources.


According to participants in the NCREST workshop, access to and use of college resources can be increased in two ways: 1) high schools can make students more aware of available college resources and help them to make fuller use of them (e.g. through informal visits to the college facilities or counseling sessions organized in collaboration with college staff) 2) stakeholders can improve the partnership between the high school and college by working together to create new agreements (e.g. putting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in place about partners’ responsibilities or organizing monthly meetings with all stakeholders).


What factors influence the development of productive partnerships?


Multiple factors can influence the development of productive partnerships. Reports by Hughes, Mechur Karp, Fermin and Bailey (2005) and the New Schools Venture Fund (2007) emphasize that a perceived power balance among all partners is fundamental to any healthy partnership. In order to reach such a balance, there must be a clear understanding of the purpose of the partnership, roles, and a sense of commitment to the school’s success and sustainability. All the panelists participating in the NCREST workshop underlined the importance of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or other agreements in formalizing the school-college partnership from the start. MOUs can help to outline important issues, such as financing, credit award, access to college resources and facilities, and other related issues (e.g. benefits for all partners involved) and provide a basis for smooth transitions when leadership changes at any of the partner institutions. Panelists also mentioned a college liaison as a key resource when it comes to managing these aspects of the partnership, and facilitating communication between the middle college high school and higher education institution (e.g. by resolving problems related to use of facilities, registrations etc. and working with high school students on education plans).


What are potential challenges associated with the partnerships and how can they be dealt with?


As in any other partnership, relationships between middle college high schools and colleges may experience difficulties that can have a negative impact on students. Vogt and Venezia (2009) outline certain issues that must be addressed in order to develop a healthy relationship between partners:


  • Potential resentment by college faculty toward teaching high school students
  • Understanding both college and K-12 standards and assessments
  • Avoiding teaching a “college lite” version of dual enrollment courses
  • Overextending faculty commitment and time
  • Clarifying relevant logistics (calendar, schedule, transportation)
  • Identifying appropriate faculty and providing support and/or professional development.


A participant of the NCREST workshop at the MCNC 2012 summer conference pointed out that, at her institution, the most problems arise when faculty at the college feel that the middle college high school is putting a strain on resources (space, money, etc.). Another participant expressed the concern that at his partner institution there is a lack of understanding among the faculty of what the early college program is about. In order to avoid such issues, staff at the high school should clearly communicate to the college staff the purpose of the middle college program to elicit support.


Many participants of the NCREST workshop at the MCNC 2012 summer conference expressed that communication must occur in the context of understanding the culture and context of each type of institution – K12, college, or business. Face-to-face meetings were mentioned as one of the most effective ways to have all partners express goals, needs and shortfalls in the current partnership to improve the high school students’ college experience. One participant shared how they organize monthly meetings at their school to which they invite everyone involved in the partnership. This forum serves to lead open discussions and resolve issues together.


Another workshop participant underlined the importance of gaining the college’s acceptance and understanding of the high school students’ potential. It is important to communicate high school students’ success to the college (e.g. high rates of students who graduate with an Associate’s Degree etc.) and to cultivate a sense of pride in the high school. Two participants shared that they spend considerable amount of time doing just this.


How much do MCNC schools’ students use College Support Services?


Participants of the NCREST workshop at the MCNC 2012 summer conference shared that their students often do not take advantage of the college resources provided to them. Data from the MCNC Graduating Student Survey 2012 illustrates how underutilized some college resources are.


The chart above shows, that half of the students never took advantage of tutoring and writing lab services at the college and a third of the students never visited an administrative office at the college or used instructors’ office hours in the past school year. It is also alarming to see that 13% of students have never used the college libraries and 63% of students have never participated in a club or association at the partner institution in the past school year.


During the workshop panel discussion and the follow-up activities working with the MCNC Graduating Student Survey 2012, workshop participants discussed ways to improve student use of college resources. They suggested that school staff first look into the reasons for students’ underutilization of available college resources, and offered possible reasons for this, including: lack of awareness, shyness and intimidation of the college environment, and/or possibly a belief that college resources have no value for them.


Which improvement would MCNC Early College staff like to see from their HS-College partners?

Participants of the NCREST workshop at the MCNC 2012 summer conference were asked to respond to the following question: “What is the one thing you would love to see put in place or have access to (in terms of resources, support, and access) for your organization, staff, students, programs from your partnering school/college?” Responses mentioned the most were the following:

  • Increased student access to college resources (e.g. facilities, labs, etc.) and academic and career counseling services (e.g. tutoring services).
  • Improvements in the communication between high schools and colleges, especially among high school and college instructors.
  • More public support and acknowledgment.
  • Sharing of information databases.
  • Working together to align curricula (including bridge courses).
  • Informal visits to the college campus for students who have never taken college level classes.
  • Middle college staff would also like to find ways to improve students’ knowledge of career fields and access to different kinds of community service, such as “real life exposure.”
  • More staff (counselors, tutors, academic advisors, security guards) in order to accomplish these goals.


Final thoughts


What can your school do to improve student use of college resources? You could start by assessing what kinds of college resources are available to high school students and which of these are underutilized. This may involve communication with students, faculty, and staff at your own school to learn about what resources they currently use and which they would like to use.


Documents and additional information from the NCREST workshop for middle college high school staff to use to start partnership improvement planning are available by contacting NCREST.




  • Hughes, K.L, Mecher Karp, M., Fermin, B.J. & Bailey, T.R. (2005); New Schools Venture Fund (2007). PUC schools: The design and implementation of an Early College High School Program. San Francisco, CA: New Schools Venture Fund
  • Vogt, K. and Venezia, A. (2009). College faculty engagement in early college. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

Professor Linda Darling-Hammond To Give Keynote Address

Professor Linda Darling-Hammond

Professor Linda Darling-Hammond

Middle College National Consortium is pleased to announce that Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, the renowned Stanford University educator, will give the keynote address at MCNC’s 21st annual Winter Principals’ Leadership Conference. She will be available for a question and answer session subsequent to her keynote address. Professor Darling-Hammond is renowned for her work on school restructuring, teacher quality, and educational equity. In 2006 Professor Darling-Hammond was named one of the nation’s ten most influential people affecting educational policy for her work, What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future, that led to sweeping changes in teaching and teacher education. She created the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute and the School Redesign Network.

The MCNC Winter Principals’ Leadership Conference will be held from February 14-16, 2013 at the Newport Beach Hyatt Regency. This conference is open to, and appropriate for, all Middle and Early College High School leaders (both official and unofficial), non-Middle College small school leaders, school district staff, personnel from educational organizations, and college personnel involved in education.

The MCNC Winter Principals’ Leadership Conference is a perfect match with Professor Darling-Hammond’s experience. Her policy work has been a game changer. For those people desiring to learn more about the conference, or register, please visit the MCNC website site at:

Consortium Matters

Last Spring the Middle College National Consortium (MCNC) held a JAM (an online asynchronous conversation) ongI_77310_cece the role of Peer Review in teacher evaluation. Consensus was that leadership is needed to create a viable Peer Review Process. While we are in a society that wants results immediately, time is needed for a full implementation of the process while teachers learn to give and receive feedback from peers. The Peer Review Process is most effective when the entire staff works to implement an instructional practice to improve student outcomes. Lastly, Peer Review and evaluation can mix when multiple indicators are used for teacher evaluation and there is role clarity and professional development for implementation.

In September of this year the Chicago Teachers Union held a strike. The central issue was that a proposed evaluation system that places a high level of the evaluation on the test scores of the students, is unfair not just to teachers but also to the students. The Chicago Teachers Union eventually settled for a contract that based the evaluation on multiple measures with test scores counting for 30% of a teacher’s rating. This was the first test of the proposals that are currently underway in many states and districts to measure teacher effectiveness with student test scores. If this compromise sets a national agenda, then it is important for teachers to work to define the other measures that will be used for their evaluation.

The central question is, “what is the purpose of these evaluations?” Is it to hold teachers accountable for teaching or to fire teachers? Is it possible to do both?

Isn’t improvement in teaching the most important agenda item that the nation faces to raise the level of education and thereby provide a family living wage for all? MCNC has ample evidence that improvement in instruction comes from “just in time” feedback from respected educators, administrators, coaches, or other teachers.

Using a Peer Review process, that is valued and supported by the school leader and provides regular feedback from other teachers in the school, pays benefits way beyond test scores. Traditionally, teaching has been an isolated profession with professional development done by attendance at scheduled workshops. But like anyone learning a new skill, the role of practice and feedback is critical for improvement. A peer feedback support system that intentionally uses teacher time to visit other classrooms and provide feedback on instructional practice is an effective and cost efficient way to improve academic achievement. Most importantly it relies on the existing resources and expertise that our teachers bring to the work.

MCNC has documented that schools with Peer Review Programs that include a peer hiring system, regular inter visitation, formal feedback from peers and students in end of year teacher evaluations, have higher graduation rates than other schools in the cities in which they are located and have high rates of college credit accumulation for all graduates. For more information visit our website


By Wendy Samberg, Director of Instructional Design and Development, Gateway Community College, New Haven, CT

In New Haven, Connecticut, the city-wide drop­out rate for high school students exceeds 27%. We’ve known for too long that there’s a massive achievement gap in our state, but the elephant in our local community’s room has been the communication gap and lackluster strategies between the high schools and the college. Students who graduate from high school and enter Gateway or one of our state universities should feel confident that they’re ready and able to begin work toward higher educational goals. However, for more than 85% of those incoming freshmen, this has not been the case.

The Gateway Community College Middle Colleges

For high school graduates to succeed as college freshmen, we would need to forge a committed relationship between Gateway Community College and the New Haven Public Schools. We would need flexibility within the education policies and procedures to offer a variety of secondary school options. Our immediate goal was to increase high school and college graduation rates, without the need for remediation. To begin, we had to acknowledge some disheartening facts: Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in elementary and middle school in the nation. New Haven students fall behind in literacy and mathematics early in their academic careers, setting the stage for low performance. If students were going to be successful, we would have to actively help them “catch up.”

For successful projects, leadership is mandatory. Gateway’s President and the Superintendent of New Haven’s schools, agreed to a memorandum of understanding to support the partnership. We joined the Middle College National Consortium. We are consistently updated on national and local initiatives that involve best practices in dual credit programming. We chose three principals from very different high schools who showed interest in having their schools participate in a dual credit partnership with the college. All the agreed to a set of standard procedures including regularly scheduled meetings, testing students for baseline data using the College Board Accuplacer placement test and diagnostic test for more specific information conveying mastery or deficiencies in math and English. Co-Op students as freshmen

We agreed to a series of professional development sessions for both college faculty and high school teachers to be aware of each others’ perceptions and pedagogy. Together we attend the MCNC professional development conferences to stay current in our field. We hired professional liaisons to ensure daily communication between the college and high school classes and tutors to reinforce teacher lessons. We offer summer programming at the college so that students have a continuous educational experience, while earning up to nine college credits over six weeks.

Funding has been secured through grants and foundations and the College has waived the cost of fees. Ultimately, legislation at the federal and state level is needed to ensure long-term success.

All partners believe strongly what research has confirmed – that students who participate in academically challenging high school curricula are more likely to be successful in college. More often than not, rigorous courses are geared to an “elite” tier of high school students, leaving students with inadequate academic and social skill levels at a distinct disadvantage. The Gateway Middle Colleges promote an environment where students can learn the skills to be engaged, academically challenged, and to feel socially and emotionally secure.

Gateway Middle College Partnerships Common Components

  • Gateway seeks out students who might otherwise not have considered themselves “college material” to participate in a rigorous academic program beginning in 9th grade.
  • Students have the opportunity to accrue anywhere from 30 credits to a certificate or an associate’s degree. Programs are developed that complement the “theme” of the school.
  • Parent participation is an integral part of the program. There are two parent-student gatherings each semester and one before the summer. Parents are introduced to the faculty and given syllabi. Parents are part of a list serve that’s set up to keep information flowing back and forth.
  • Summer programs offer students a full day of programming for six weeks. Students can earn up to 9 college credits at the same time they are meeting new peers, professors and staff, and finding their way around the college campus.

Gateway Middle College at Co-op

The Cooperative High School for the Arts and Humanities (Co-Op) was Gateway’s first Middle College partnership. The students were selected as second semester freshmen on the basis of attendance and an interview. Students, with the support of Middle College, were able to successfully complete college courses at Gateway in the morning and during the summer and finish their high school requirements at Co-op. Four years later, they are graduating with upwards of 30 credits, entering college as sophomores.

Our students have been offered admission and scholarships to many colleges and universities including: Gateway CC, Manhattan College, Morehouse College, Penn State, Quinnipiac University, Smith, St. John’s University, Tuskegee University, and UCONN.

Gateway Middle College at Hillhouse

The after school partnership staff consists of two English teachers and two math teachers and a student teacher for each as an aide/tutor. The Parent Coordinator has been very successful in meeting with parents one-on-one, phoning families for all absences, and collaborating with other members of the team. The program meets 4 days per week (2 days of math and 2 of English) from 2:30 to 4 pm. Several students have sacrificed sports or other after school aspirations to focus on their academic growth. In addition, two computer classes are being taught for college credit.

All Hillhouse freshmen were given an assessment in December to determine strengths and weaknesses in areas of mathematics considered necessary prerequisites for college level math courses. The results of these assessments were used to develop focus areas for instruction in our two groups of after-school math classes. In March, after two months of the program, assessments indicate that one group advanced by an average of 14% and the other by an average of 28%. Both the group and individual progress is substantial for only two months.

Gateway Middle College at New Haven Academy

All NHA students participate in a four-year sequence of Facing History and Ourselves seminars, civics, and social justice courses. The Middle College at NHA works with the co-principals to find courses, for dual credit, that fit in with their curricula. This semester, students were enrolled in a Criminal Justice class taught by the former head of up the Correction Department’s academic programming. In addition to traditional coursework, students attended a court session with the presiding judge where they were able to view a voir dire session of potential witnesses.

The most exciting part of our student success plan is that it’s a continuum. It took years for the college community and our high school partners to realize that we are not going to win the achievement gap war with a single battle or strategy. It’s going to take all of us, armed with good will, a passion for our jobs, love for our students, respect for each other, motivation and a powerful resolution that, together, we’ll do what it takes to ensure our young people succeed in higher education.