By: Herbie Smith, Executive Director, The San Marcos Promise
The City of San Marcos means something different to each of us. For some of us it represents a rich agricultural history and for others it symbolizes change and a link to the future. But for all of us, the City of San Marcos embodies an unparalleled educational environment.
The San Marcos Unified School District (SMUSD) has been recognized throughout the state for student achievement, graduation rates, and closing the achievement gap. Palomar Community College offers more than 300 Associates Degree and certificate programs, and California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for its engagement in the community.
With such a plethora of educational possibilities, it is no surprise that San Marcos is no longer one of the best-kept secrets in North County.
What is even more impressive has been the performance of SMUSD in terms of closing the achievement gap for all students. In fact, Ed Trust West ranked SMUSD seventh out of 149 districts in California and the best out of six districts in San Diego for the service provided to Black/African American, Latino, and socio-economically disadvantaged students.
In addition, SMUSD has been recognized in West Ed’s white paper, Rising All Boats, as one of the top six unified school districts in the state and is ranked #4 in San Diego County out of twelve districts and one of only four school districts that have an Academic Performance Index (API) over 850.
SMUSD has created an environment of high expectations for students and staff and it is my belief that this expectation should not end at graduation.
In the spring of 2006, a unique partnership between SMUSD and CSUSM was established that has and will continue to have an impact on all students. This partnership, known as the PACE Promise, guarantees admission to students meeting specific academic requirements beginning with the graduating class of 2009.
In 2007, Superintendent, Dr. Holt worked alongside the Leichtag Foundation to secure a six million dollar endowment to support college scholarships for PACE Promise students attending CSUSM. In return, SMUSD named Joli Ann Leichtag Elementary in honor and memory of the late Joli Ann Leichtag, a former first grade teacher and education advocate.
The PACE Promise provides a step-by-step plan of preparation for college and career beginning in seventh grade. San Marcos students must work to complete all A-G coursework with a C or better, meet the CSU Eligibility Index, demonstrate college readiness, submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and be continuously enrolled in SMSUD beginning in 9th grade and graduate from a San Marcos high school. Meeting these requirements also ensures students are prepared for admission to most California public and private universities and colleges. Students who meet all the program’s academic benchmarks and have an unmet financial need, as determined by CSUSM, receive one thousand dollars per academic year for up to four years.
The PACE Promise was part of an effort to create a college-going culture in SMUSD. From elementary to high school, you witness a myriad of activates that support this culture: college spirit days, college field trips for 7th and 10th grade students, college and career nights, college application workshops, and early assessment programs. This culture allows students to begin thinking about college much earlier in their academic career and builds the confidence and belief that all students can be college bound.
Since 2009, the data trends show that PACE Promise students’ grade point averages and retention rates outperform CSUSM averages, illustrating the positive impact of SMUSD’s focus on college readiness.And, I believe that the PACE Promise can become so much more.
Imagine yourself living in a community that would provide your child, grandchild, or neighbor’s child with an opportunity to attain a low cost four-year degree at a high quality California State University. Imagine the implications this opportunity might have on the community of San Marcos?
This was the driving question that brought together like minded community leaders and Superintendent, Dr. Kevin Holt to form The San Marcos Promise, a non-profit 501c(3) corporation responsible for guiding the vision and mission of the PACE Promise. I am both humbled and excited to have been selected as the Executive Director of The San Marcos Promise with the responsibility to expand the PACE Promise and develop a community vision for college readiness. I am confident that I can leverage my experiences as a first generation college student to build bridges for students that eliminate the obstacles that stand in the way of their dreams.
Ultimately, I believe that The San Marcos Promise will transform lives by providing clear pathways for students to attain their college and career goals. Dream big with me, and together we can build a community vision that will benefit the entire City of San Marcos.