Dr. Janet M. Cunningham believes that, “as educators we should encourage all students to find their strengths, pursue post-secondary education, and utilize their strengths in finding a satisfying career.”
Dr. Cunningham is the Executive Director of Citizens for Educational Excellence in Corpus Christi, Texas and has spent over 30 years serving school districts in Corpus Christi in many educational roles, including teacher, counselor, dean of instruction, consultant and principal. Her proudest accomplishment to date is working with community partners to establish Coastal Compass, a one-stop community resource center that provides information about college preparation, financial aid, and employment.
America’s Promise talked with Dr. Cunningham to learn more about how her community is coming together to create pathways for students and awareness about career opportunities.
How does your work help create a GradNation for all?
A great example of our work, and one that we are very proud of is Coastal Compass Education and Career Resource Center in Corpus Christi. Located in our premier mall, this “one-stop shop” is a free and convenient way for students to obtain information and assistance with all areas of education and careers. Often a student will come in for one service and receive assistance in many areas. While our organization, Citizens for Educational Excellence, established the Center, it is truly a partnership organization with support provided by five higher education institutions, a skills training center, school district, literacy council, education service center, P-16 regional council, chamber of commerce, and Workforce Solutions. These partners support the Center with staff, furniture, technology equipment, printing, and other resources, making the Center extremely cost-effective to operate.
What successes in your community are you most proud of?
As I visit with colleagues from across the nation, I am most proud of the tremendous partnerships we have in Corpus Christi and the Coastal Bend because I know these types of relationship don’t happen everywhere. There is a spirit of camaraderie and team members truly enjoy working with each other. While institutions most certainly want the best for the students they serve, our team members go out of their way to help people with their needs, whatever those might be. Being under one roof at Coastal Compass has helped the various partners grow closer by sharing information, planning events together, and partnering on different projects. Personally, I am very fortunate that whenever I put out a call for help, the response is tremendous and immediate.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your work?
Besides not ever having enough time or money, our biggest challenge is creating awareness about the importance of education to the well-being of our community and spreading the word about the many great opportunities we have for students living in the Coastal Bend. Part of this is changing mind-sets. We are fortunate to have great, well-paying jobs in our area and many only require a certificate or associate degree. It’s challenging to get our students to consider careers in areas they have never heard of, such as “process technology” and “biotechnology,” but we’re working hard to change that.
What principles guide your work in education and youth development?
As a former educator, my belief has always been that every student has strengths and there is “something” out there for everyone. Often in our school system, we only recognize the smartest or most athletic students, but there are so many other students with unique skills, such as welding, public speaking, or mechanical, that should be equally appreciated. As educators we should encourage all students to find their strengths, pursue post-secondary education, and utilize their strengths in finding a satisfying career.
Describe what makes your work unique in three words or phrases.
It is difficult to put in to just three words what makes our work unique. I absolutely love my job and I’m truly blessed to work with those around me – my board, our staff, our many partners, and our community. While the work is challenging and hours are long, when I see a student experiencing success, it is rewarding to have made a difference in this person’s life. Above all we provide hope - for a better education, a better job, and a better life.