What I’ve Learned from 10+ Years of CCR Work
By Julie Sweitzer
What I've learned in the 10+ years of leading college and career readiness efforts.
Leadership matters. How often we hear that phrase, but it definitely applies to leading change in a school. Frankly, integrating college and career readiness (CCR) efforts into a school is a significant change, even though many of us used to assume that’s what high schools did. Too many high schools are focused on graduating students from high school, leaving any postsecondary planning to overworked school counselors. School leaders need to explicitly state college and career readiness is an important goal, not just getting the kids out of the building.
Leadership takes a team, including the principal, school counselor and teacher leaders. The team needs to intentionally develop and implement plans. Staff members (not just teachers) need professional learning on why college readiness matters, what it is, and how they can play their role. Team leaders set standards through their actions, integrating readiness messages into their interactions with students and showing up at CCR sessions to show it is important. Strong teams ask their staff what they need to be successful, and provide it.
Effective implementation won’t happen overnight. Research tells us it usually takes three or more years for a new change to become part of the culture. Creative teams find the informal leaders and persuaders, as well as the naysayers, and figure out how to connect them to overcome resistance. College and career readiness must become part of the school culture, outliving any single principal or counselor champion.
School teams must recognize that families need just as much information and support as the students. We often talk about first generation students whose families by definition do not have experience with the higher education system in the United States, but we also need to recognize that the information college-educated parents have is generally out of date, and usually limited to the one system (technical, two or four year) they experienced, probably even one institution. It is honestly frightening to send your child off alone to college, to some extent even if they live at home. Helping families learn about options and processes can mitigate their fear.
The final things I learned – it is doable. It is necessary – no one, especially no child, has all the information they need. And it can change the trajectory of a student’s life.
*Note from Jennifer Kunze, Director of Ramp-Up to Readiness: For over a decade, Julie Sweitzer has committed herself to advancing college and career readiness first across the state of Minnesota, and later throughout the nation as Ramp-Up grew. She steadfastly believes in the exceptional power of postsecondary to improve lives and our country. In January of 2021 Julie will retire from the University of Minnesota after 32 years of service in several offices where she made strong impacts and many friends. Julie and her wise counsel will be missed greatly by her colleagues within the College Readiness Consortium and across the university system. We wish her the very best in retirement.
About the author: Julie Sweitzer is Executive Director of the College Readiness Consortium and Ramp-Up to Readiness. Previously she directed the Minnesota Principals Academy and helped create Youth Central, a website that makes it easy to find the University of Minnesota programs and activities that serve K12 students and families. Julie was an elected board member of the St. Louis Park Public Schools for 12 years.
She holds a Masters of Public Affairs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, and a J.D. from the University of Minnesota’s Law School.