Improving education in Tulare County begins with collaboration

150 150 Niki Woodard

Collaboration is key. 

That was the theme of the newly launched Youth Connect Network at its kickoff meeting and workshop last week in Visalia, CA. 

The plan was simple: come up with a model for a coordinated, combined effort between nonprofits, agencies, businesses and schools to combat drop-out and low matriculation rates, both areas Tulare consistently ranks near the bottom statistically among California counties. 

The eventual outcome is the creation of a county-wide system to monitor and support middle and high-school students in order to guide them along a path of academic success.

“Today’s event marks a new chapter in real community collaboration,” said Jim Vidak, Tulare County Superintendent of Schools, to kick off the workshop.

 “We hope this event will be the beginning of great things for the county and for our students,” Vidak said.

More than 40 teachers, administrators, nonprofit reps, as well as business community and elected officials in the room who comprise The Youth Connect Network brought a wealth of experience to the table. 

“It really requires different segments of the community coming together to solve the problems,” said Ernie Hernandez, executive director of United Way of Tulare County (UWTC). 

The many educators in attendance were accompanied by representatives from an impressive list of organizations:

  • Community, Services, Employment, Training (CSET)
  • United Way of Tulare County (UWTC)
  • Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE)
  • Workforce Investment Board of Tulare County (WIB)
  • Boys and Girls Club 
  • University of California Merced
  • California State University of Fresno
  • College of the Sequoias 
  • Ruiz Foods 
  • Rabobank

The collaborative—organized by UWTC, TCOE and the WIB Youth Council—is an expansion of UWTC’s College Access Initiative, which has helped increase access to education for hundreds of students in the county. 

One school in particular, Tulare Western High School, has had great success implementing the collaborative model and will serve as the blueprint for all other schools. 

Beginning in 2009, Tulare Western—with support from Southern California Edison, UWTC and TCOE—implemented after-school and summer school tutoring sessions for eighth-graders and freshmen to boost performance in algebra, a key metric of overall high-school success. 

They also established a Response to Intervention (RtI) program to provide additional support to at-risk learners and to improve school attendance, another key metric of high-school success.  

The results, so far, have been exemplary. By just the second year of the program in 2011, the pass rates for Tulare Western students on the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) jumped 7 percent in both Math and English-Language Arts.

California Standards Test (CST) test proficiency rates showed even greater gains: 28% in Geometry, 19% in World History, 15% in Earth Science and 12% in English-Language Arts. These gains built upon smaller yet significant increases made in the first year, from 2009 to 2010. 

With such a diverse group of stakeholders prioritizing post-secondary educational opportunities (and overall success in life) for Tulare’s students, continued success for the Youth Connect Network would help ensure that Tulare’s workforce of tomorrow will be ready.

The success so far has caught the attention of the Tulare County business and education communities and the nonprofit sector and prompted the organization to reconvene on a larger scale.

If they can demonstrate similar success with a replicable model in other Tulare County schools, word will most certainly spread. 

The group next meets on March 21, when it will take the results of its participatory workshop and begin to mold them into a plan of action

Niki Woodard is a former journalist and Central Valley-based consultant for California Forward


Niki Woodard

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