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Designing a Diploma with a Purpose: Redefining Student Success

“Our workforce needs are changing so rapidly that we have to think differently about how we prepare our students.” That is the key takeaway from Dan Bridges, superintendent of Naperville Community School District 203 in Illinois, as he and his team described their journey of rethinking college and career readiness.

Their district wants schools to support students to graduate with a “diploma with a purpose.” Toward that end, leadership has built their efforts on their district’s strategic plan, equity plan, state and federal legislation and, most importantly, students’ desire for relevance in what they are learning.

What are the components of their approach? Jayne Willard, assistant superintendent of curriculum and Instruction and Jill Hlavacek, director of Innovation and learning described the interrelationships between their comprehensive counseling curriculum, through which planning high school courses and activities happens with the end in mind, and individual learning plans, career pathway development, workplace learning experiences and college credit opportunities.

The presenters generously shared resources throughout their PowerPoint presentation, which included QR codes and links to their planning documents. (A link to their PowerPoint is in the NCE app.)

What is a diploma with a purpose? To date, they developed four career pathways within which students can graduate with a “diploma endorsement.” To receive the diploma endorsement, students must have career exploration activities, adult mentoring, paid or supervised career development experiences, two years of career-focused coursework and more.

What advice did they offer? It’s important to just start! Start to rethink college and career readiness. Also, engage the board of education, the community  and high school, middle school and department chairs early to get their input and buy-in.

They are proud of their outcomes, which include 96 percent of students completing onboarding in their tracking system, 95 percent of students in grades 8th-11th have started course planning, and 77 percent of 10th graders have selected career pathways.

(Rebecca Salon is a reporter for Conference Daily Online and a disabilities policy consultant in Washington, D.C.)

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