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CUSD serious about promoting college
Scott Siegel

College is not for every student, but every student should have the option of attending college. That is the belief behind "Ceres is Serious About College," a campaign being launched by the Ceres Unified School District to break down barriers that often prevent students from pursuing higher education, particularly in economically depressed areas.

Stanislaus County is considered a low-wealth region of the state. Our unemployment rates are high and our adult education levels are low when compared to other counties and cities. In Ceres, more than 80 percent of our students qualify as "low income" for purposes of participating in the National School Lunch program.

I believe it is a universal goal of educators, parents and the community to break this cycle of poverty through the one factor that can reliably change a child's future economic prospects: education. The economic benefit of increased education is huge, both to the individual student and to the community at large. For this reason, it is imperative that all of our children have access to a free and appropriate education. We should be proud to live in a nation that mandates this for every student, as not all countries provide their citizens with this great equalizer.

In Ceres, we are adamant that our students deserve the same opportunities that are available in school districts in wealthier parts of the state. In this regard, high school graduation rates are key. A high school diploma is now generally the minimum educational attainment necessary to have any hope of economic security. Because of this, the Stanislaus County Office of Education is planning a campaign to work to increase graduation rates.

Ceres is already making strides in this area, as reflected in recently released high school graduation rates from the California Department of Education. The statewide four-year graduation rate for 2011-2012 was 78.6 percent. The rate in Stanislaus County was 78.4 percent. For the same period, Ceres Unified had a graduation rate of 86.4 percent. Notably, CUSD's graduation rates for minority and impoverished students do not display the disparity that characterizes the data for most districts. We are very proud of the efforts of our teachers, support staff, students and parents in making CUSD a standout in this area. However, we cannot see this as enough.

In addition to working toward the goal of having well over 90 percent of our students graduate from high school in four years, we think that our students can go further. In fact, we think that many more of them must. Last year, approximately 25 percent of our graduating seniors enrolled in four-year colleges. Given the realities of today's global economy, many more of our students must complete their four-year college degrees in order to attain future economic success. We have set a goal that by 2017, 60 percent of the graduating class will be qualified to attend a CSU or UC, 50 percent will be accepted to a four-year college, and 40 percent will actually enroll.

While setting our sites this high is a little daunting, I do believe that it is a target worth attaining. To help us get there, the "Ceres is Serious about College" campaign is designed to eliminate roadblocks for students who want to attend college. Using the increased funding made available by Proposition 30, we have hired additional learning directors (administrative counselors) at Ceres and Central Valley High Schools for next year. We will also be piloting an SAT preparation program and increasing our outreach efforts to parents and students.

We hope that parents and the community will join us as we strive to create much greater opportunities for our students. They are capable of attending college at the same rates as students from wealthy communities, and they deserve to do so. Working together as a community, we can make it happen.