In a new book just published by Oxford University Press and titled Achieving College Dreams: How a University-Charter District Partnership Created an Early College High School, editors Rhona S. Weinstein and Frank C. Worrell tell the story of how CAL Prep was created and the students they sought to serve:
“Its students are largely low-income, ethnic minority (African American and Latino), and the first in their families to complete college. At entry, many of these students are academically behind, accustomed to failure, unsure of their capacity to succeed, and prone to avoid effort.”
Their book includes lessons in how to get such a school started and provides chapters on collaborative research about school programs and student perspectives conducted on students as well as the voices of educators with on-the-ground experience in creating this educational environment of both equity and excellence. In an interview, Weinstein and Worrell answered some questions about what they learned from founding a school to help improve the educational and life trajectories of underserved students.
What key lessons did you learn from founding and running CAL Prep? Could this school serve as a model to serve disadvantaged students broadly?
Rhona S. Weinstein: CAL Prep presented us with a fascinating opportunity to work closely and deeply across the boundaries of disciplines, research-practice communities, and secondary-postsecondary education. We learned a great deal from this collaborative effort. With the shared goal of developing a new school, we were able to see clearly how all the component parts of school design and teacher practices must fit together and reinforce each other to create the school environment we had envisioned.
The task was complex – to detrack the high school program and more flexibly provide a college-preparatory education with both acceleration (completion of five college classes) and remediation for vastly underprepared students – without throwing any student off the college track. To do so required challenging the existing mindset or expectation that students at this level of attainment are not and cannot become college material. To do so required addressing the development of the whole student by engaging both hearts and minds within a positive, inclusive, and re-engaging school culture. And to do so required innovation in and alignment between structures, schedules, and teachers’ roles to promote youth development at every turn. Bottom line, investments in building teacher capacity to match these organizational innovations proved critical.