Ready Now Yuma covers college or career choices
The Helios Education Foundation recently awarded the Yuma Union High School District a $3.9 million grant for the Ready Now Yuma program, with the goal of having every graduate prepared to succeed in a college or a career. This series will look at the funding, how it will be used and what the implications are for YUHSD.
Officials say that the overarching intent of the Ready Now Yuma program is to graduate each and every Yuma Union High School District student to be prepared for success after high school, whether that be through college or a career.
“College and career readiness are the same thing,” said Superintendent Toni Badone, noting that similar skills are needed regardless of which path a student decides to pursue. “For example, you still need to have great reading skills even if you're not going to go to college.”
She emphasized that the program is offered for every learner — it's not an elite program for high achievers. Students can become “diploma eligible” in two years of high school but are not required to graduate early, and it opens pathways and closes none. Career and Technical Education courses will still be a vital part of what they do, she said.
A implementation plan was developed by the Center for the Future of Arizona in collaboration with YUHSD and the Helios Education Foundation over the past 18 months to determine what the goals and objectives were of the district to make Ready Now Yuma adaptable for all students.
Associate Superintendent James Sheldahl noted that the implementation plan is a lengthy “living and breathing document” that has been molded and shaped over time.
The districtwide approach of Ready Now Yuma makes it unique from other programs across the state as it raises the bar for students with the Cambridge curriculum, which is used by many of the countries leading the world in student academic achievement, Sheldahl said.
“Most other places have that have adopted any type of board examination system like Cambridge are only adopting it for a certain portion of their population,” Badone said. “If you tolerate that some students are not exposed to a rigorous curriculum or not taught critical thinking and problem solving, then you're saying that those students not only maybe don't deserve it ... but also it's like saying we can afford to have this many people not educated.”
Badone shared that an uneducated population can lead to an additional strain on the economy as taxpayers are forced to support those who need extra assistance, are in minimum wage jobs or in prison.
“I think that really what Ready Now Yuma comes down to is a better quality of life for all the citizens of the community,” she said.
Badone explained that the grant awarded to the district by the Helios Education Foundation for $3.9 million will mainly go toward the first four objectives of their five-year implementation plan:
• Implement a whole-district, whole-school performance-based and aligned instructional system (Cambridge International Examinations).
• Routinely practice data-driven decision-making in support of Ready Now Yuma at the district, campus, department classroom and individual student level.
• Communicate consistently and intentionally, engaging all stakeholders around Ready Now Yuma in order to embed the expectation of college and career readiness for all Yuma students through cultural change.
• Support every YUHSD student to graduate college- and career-ready through targeted academic support and advising, and the development of college awareness and skills.
Badone said during the upcoming school year, their biggest goal will be to provide professional development for instructors, administration and counselors on the Cambridge system.
“As an example, we are planning to do some work with our substitute teachers as well, because they show up in the classroom and they aren't familiar with what we're doing. Once you have people who are capable and they've gone through the training with Cambridge, they're able to work together to constantly make it better as a group.”
To keep the ball rolling after the grant with Helios has expired, she said, they plan to fund additional professional development for new teachers through Title 1 grants. Sheldahl added that they are also still looking for financial support from local stakeholders.
The district has also recently approved job descriptions for a Ready Now Yuma director, a district data director and a communications director to further support the program. They also plan to spend time evaluating data and the success of the program, not just short term but over the long haul.
Badone said she believes that the shift statewide toward the Common Core curriculum, which will be required to be implemented in districts nationwide by 2014, will help younger students prepare for what they will encounter once they get to high school. She noted that the Common Core is a step in the right direction as it requires a more analytical, critical thinking-based approach to education.
“One of the goals in our implementation plan is to help students transition from middle school, and helping our middle school colleagues understand what we're doing,” Badone said.
She noted that Yuma educators have an extensive history of collaborating well together.
2003 — YUHSD joined Yuma PLAN with a common goal to become the county with the best instruction in the state
2004 — YUHSD changed the Advanced Placement (AP) program to increase participation, increase the validity of courses and promote rigorous study
2006 — YUHSD participated in Arizona APIP grant, establishing AVID at Yuma and Gila Ridge high schools
2008-2009 — YUHSD wrote for APIP grant with three partner elementary districts, expanding AVID classes to all high schools and eight middle schools
2010 — YUHSD joined the ACT District Choice State Test schools, giving the ACT to all juniors in April, on a school day, for free
2009-2010 — YUHSD attended Center for Future of Arizona (CFA) Move On When Ready Information/Study Sessions
February 2011 — YUHSD Letter of Intent to the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) Commitment to be and early adopter of the Board Examination System (BES) Model
April 2011 — YUHSD signed good faith letter to CFA to become Move On When Ready schools
May 2011 — “Ready Now Yuma” Signed: Collaborative Memorandum of Understanding between YUHSD, Helios Education Foundation and CFA
April-July 2011 — Early Planning Work: Cambridge agreements signed; Initial teacher professional development; Initial site visits (CFA, Helios, NCEE); School-level design teams established
2011/2012 was a planning and pilot year for Ready Now Yuma.
2012/2013 will be the first year of full implementation of Ready Now Yuma.
*Information provided by YUHSD
Sarah Womer can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.