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Today, the National Postsecondary Institute (NPSI) and Reach Higher announced the winners of the first-ever Power of Hope Award. The award recognizes school districts that engage school counselors in leadership roles that effectively organize and implement grades  6-12 college and career postsecondary enrollment strategies.

“The Power of Hope Award is built on the belief that the nation’s economic growth is dependent upon continuing to get more low income and predominantly minority students to and through college,” said Eric Waldo, Executive Director of Reach Higher and Chief Access and Equity Programs Officer at Common App. “We’re proud to partner with NPSI to recognize these 6 amazing school districts and the work their counselors are doing to change students’ lives.”

“The Power of Hope Award is built on the belief that the nation’s economic growth is dependent upon continuing to get more low income and predominantly minority students to and through college. We’re proud to partner with NPSI to recognize these 6 amazing school districts and the work their counselors are doing to change students’ lives.”

Eric Waldo, Executive Director of Reach Higher and Chief Access and Equity Programs Officer at Common App

The inaugural winners of the Power of Hope Award are: 

Alvord Unified School District (Riverside, CA). The Alvord Unified School District is organized around a framework designed to ensure all students know and understand their postsecondary options, and school counselors lead this framework. Notably, college and career readiness preparation activities begin in kindergarten and are followed by specifically designed counselor activities for each grade level. In kindergarten, school counselors lead career days, supported by high school counselors who speak with students about high school graduation requirements and campus tours.

Grand Prairie Independent School District (Grand Prairie, TX). Grand Prairie Independent School District has organized a K-12 postsecondary advising system around a district wide approach that includes counselors and administrators working together. Counselors are recognized as leaders, and they have a strong collaborative working relationship with all stakeholders. They implement targeted college and career readiness lessons that get evaluated. Teachers are also included in the postsecondary advising framework, with additional collaboration with the career and technical education department.  Teachers present lessons on their college experience. The vision is to expose all kids to postsecondary opportunities.

Moreno Valley Unified School District (Moreno Valley, CA). Moreno Valley Unified School District has organized a postsecondary strategy around a PreK-12 college and career readiness framework. At the center of this work is the district focus on the role of the school counselor. Counselor work is organized around standards and there is strong collaboration between administrators and counselors. The district has organized structures and processes around the  California College Guidance Initiative (CCGI) milestones and school counselors start in middle grades to make sure that all students know what they need. There is also strong collaboration between internal and external partners.

New York City Department of Education (New York, NY). The nation’s largest school district is focused on implementing systems to institutionalize the practice of college and career planning. The work began with the College Success For All Initiative and has evolved into developing a district wide postsecondary advising community of practice framework. Recognizing that school counselors were often the only role providing postsecondary support, a framework was developed to focus efforts on building a team around school counselors to reach and support all students.

San Jacinto Unified School District (San Jacinto, CA). San Jacinto Unified School District’s goal is to build a college going culture. Student achievement outcomes increased, after the district received the Elementary School Counseling Grant and expanded counselor postsecondary engagement and focused on establishing a comprehensive counseling model to infuse postsecondary activities PreK – 12. The district has on-going administrator and principal training around the role and function of school counselors and how to engage them as leaders to ensure that they are not used inappropriately. Counselors inform administrators about what students need. The district counseling model is based on administrative and school counselor collaboration.

Westminster Public Schools (Westminster, CO). Westminster Public Schools has created systems to make sure all students receive college and career readiness information. They have implemented year by year postsecondary activities across all grade levels. The district has developed a postsecondary attitude that supports all students beginning in middle school. The goal is to make sure all students have a pathway to postsecondary pathways after high school.

“It is time to strategically position counselors as leaders in schools and in districts so they can be an essential part of the educational reform agenda,” said Arne Duncan, former Secretary of Education under President Obama. 

NPSI and Reach Higher also awarded two additional Spotlight on Practice Awards to recognize district-wide practices to help all students reach higher for an additional credential beyond a high school diploma.

The winners of the Spotlight on Practice Awards are: 

Columbus Community School District (Columbus Junction, IA). Columbus Community School District is organized to help all students transition from high school to postsecondary through the dual role of high school counselor and college advising. The counselor focuses as a counselor at the high school and also as a counselor/advisor role for year one at the community college to address obstacles of finance, mental health, homelessness, abusive relationships, academic struggles, job placement and academic advising.

Stilwell Public Schools (Stilwell, OK)Stilwell Public Schools is organized to help all students REACH HIGHER through the development of a working partnership model with the Cherokee Nation. Understanding that 75% of their students are Native American, the partnership enhances school and family support and builds needed relationships in order to increase understanding of postsecondary pathways and the steps required for all students to be college and career ready at the end of high school. A representative of the Cherokee Nation serves as a community bridge, supports the postsecondary programming and provides insight into effective implementation strategies.

“It is time to strategically position counselors as leaders in schools and in districts so they can be an essential part of the educational reform agenda.”

Arne Duncan, former Secretary of Education under President Obama