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Improving education at local level

With the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as U.S. secretary of education, a great deal of attention will now be given to the federal impact on public schools. While we share some of the concerns that are being raised, we also recognize that if we devote all of our attention there, we will neglect the important work being done in our local institutions.

This work, which is happening throughout the system that stretches from preschool through college, has the potential to impact Ventura County far past the days of the current presidential administration.

For example, the Amgen Foundation has supported the work of more than 60 teacher leaders throughout the county and faculty members at California Lutheran University to realign the middle school curriculum with the Next Generation Science Standards. This project, which started two years ago, will continue to impact science education in our communities for many years.

A recent federal grant awarded to Oxnard College for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education will also stimulate changes in many positive ways. Partnering with CLU, CSU Channel Islands and the Ventura County Office of Education, Oxnard College's Project Acabado is working to establish pathways of success for historically underrepresented students in STEM fields.

Through intensive mentorships, professional development, an emphasis on social and emotional development, and active learning, the project aims to significantly increase the number of STEM students entering the work force over the next 10 years.

Cal Lutheran, a recent Hispanic-Serving Institution designee, was also awarded a federal grant in the same competition. Project ALLIES will expand services, research fellowships and mentoring for STEM students at the university. A transfer outreach coordinator will work with Ventura County Community College District students, counselors and faculty to help students interested in STEM fields transition to Cal Lutheran and set themselves up for success. The goal of these initiatives is to more effectively serve Hispanic students and their classmates.

Partnerships are part of all of these projects. They are also central to another important local initiative. The Ventura County P-20 Council brings together key decision-makers from education, business, parent organizations, government and community agencies to promote and strengthen educational and career pathways. Participants share data and work together to help students achieve success by providing resources such as tutoring, mentorships and parent support.

The VC STEM Network is one example of the collaborative work emerging from the P-20 Council. This group is coordinating the collective work of multiple organizations on STEM initiatives to facilitate systemic change, build greater capacity and improve the academic outcomes of students.

STEM initiatives are not the only source of innovation and collaboration in our schools. The Ventura County Arts Council, for example, is working to ensure that the arts and arts instruction continue to be fostered and emphasized in our schools, particularly in low-income and minority communities. Its many current projects include artist residencies in elementary and middle schools, an instructional program in the juvenile detention center and the Poetry Out Loud competition.

Of course, these are only a few of the projects underway, and there are many others that could, and probably should, be mentioned.

We are fortunate to have a system staffed by committed teachers, caring support personnel and visionary leaders. These people have already recognized the issues that must be tackled in our educational institutions and are working together to ensure that the needs of our students are met.

From our vantage point, this grassroots work is what will leave a lasting impact on the people within our communities. While our attention may be diverted by bigger news in the days to come, the most important stories are ones about the extraordinary work already being done by educators throughout the county.

Michael R. Hillis is the dean and Michael McCambridge is the director of Interdisciplinary Educational Studies in the Graduate School of Education at California Lutheran University. This column originally appeared in the Ventura County Star.

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