Wake County Summit Tackles Achievement Gap, College and Career Preparedness

By 2020, 95 percent of Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) students will graduate ready for productive citizenship, higher education or a career. At least, that’s the goal that came out of the Strategic Plan that North Carolina’s Wake County presented last year.

But the community has a few challenges to overcome before it can reach that goal. For one, Wake County has an achievement gap to contend with. While 92.6 percent of white students graduate on-time, only 78.8 percent of black students and 73.5 percent of Latino/Hispanic students can say the same.

And then there’s the issue of college and career readiness. In Wake County, only a fourth of students are ready for college and career, according to Dr. Rodney Trice, the Assistant Superintendent for Equity Affairs at Wake County Public School System.

To create a multi-year action plan for 2016 that can improve these issues, the Wake County Public School SystemYouth Thrive and the Raleigh College and Community Collaborative hosted the #WakeReady GradNation Community Summit on April 29.

Almost 250 school leaders, community leaders, non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, businesses, parents and students attended the event, which focused on how the community can collectively eliminate disparities in college attendance, college completion, and career preparation for students in North Carolina’s largest public school system.

The summit reminded attendees that Wake County has already made a lot of progress. As the 16th largest public school system in the nation—and the largest in North Carolina—WCPPS recently reached its highest on-time graduation rate ever, at 86.1 percent, roughly four percentage points ahead of the national average.

And while the achievement gap is still considerable, graduation rates for African Americans went up 9.9 percentage points in the 2014-2015 school year. As a whole, Wake County outperforms North Carolina and the national average on ACT and SAT scores.

Clearly, the school system is already doing several things right. And to build on that progress, Wake County is working with community partners, like Community In Schools, to provide students with support from mentoring, college access tools, and career exploration.

The summit allowed young people who have worked with these kinds of community partners to offer their perspectives about what’s kept them focused in school. A student from The Wade Edwards Learning (The WELL) said the program helped her envision success.

“The WELL helps me not only achieve my goals but shows me that my goals are achievable,” she said.

Other students from Communities In Schools of Wake County and ¡Gradúate!​ said that supports from parents, guidance counselors, and other caring adults played an important part in their success and connection to essential resources.

"Young people have to be at the table. We have to ensure they are at the table,” said Brenda Elliott, Assistance Superintendent for Student Support Services. “That way, we hear what they are saying their needs are.”

"Programs don't change students, relationships do,” said Travis Mitchell, president of Community In Schools of Wake County, echoing the motto of founder Bill Milliken.

As the event ended, Anderson Williams, co-founder and former senior director of strategic initiatives at theTennessee College Access and Success Network, echoed the message that diverse partnerships are critical for college access efforts. Preparing students for college, Williams said, is no one person's job. It is work that will take the entire community.

Moving forward, the nonprofit Youth Thrive, who released the Wake County Strategic Blueprint in March 2016 in partnership with the Forum for Youth Investment, will lead the work that comes out of this summit, and together with the school district and numerous other partners will work to make progress on policy and system improvements. 

View photos from the event on facebook.