Students wave to their family members and friends as they wait to collect their deplomas during the Santa Monica College 2011 graduation ceremony at the Corsair Field. (File photo).

In a landmark joint meeting, the governing boards of the Santa Monica-Malibu school district and Santa Monica College brainstormed ideas for improving college access and success while setting the stage for future collaboration.

Building on an ongoing partnership between the district and the college, the study session came last week amid ongoing discussions in both systems about closing the achievement gap and developing more career-oriented education.

The meeting followed the recent passage of Assembly Bill 288, a California law focusing on dual enrollment and pathways to higher education.

Joint faculty meetings, professional development, crossover counseling, ethnic studies education and parent outreach were among the strategies floated by officials on Thursday.

Although no direct action was taken, district Superintendent Sandra Lyon pledged that her staff would meet with SMC officials to begin charting a path forward.

Board members hope to map out specific progress metrics for the programs and initiatives established through the coalition.

“This is a great thing to have begun,” SMMUSD board president Laurie Lieberman said. “It’s a beginning and a furtherance of a partnership that is already very good and only going to get stronger.”

The relationship between the two systems was demonstrated by data compiled and presented by local administrators. Nearly one-third of the district’s students go on to take classes at SMC upon graduation, and more than 40 percent of district graduates take an SMC course within six years of finishing high school, according to Terry Deloria, the SMMUSD assistant superintendent of educational services.

However, the local students who continue their educations at SMC aren’t necessarily ready for the rigors of post-secondary coursework. Just 39.6 percent of SMMUSD students were placed in college-level English classes and just 36.3 percent were placed in college-level math sections at SMC in the fall of 2014, according to data presented by Georgia Lorenz, the college’s vice president of academic affairs.

The two boards’ discussion included debate over how to measure college readiness. About 44 percent of district seniors last year scored a 3 or higher on at least one Advanced Placement exam during high school, Deloria said, adding that standardized test scores and a-g requirements are also analyzed.

SMMUSD board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein said a joint subcommittee comprised of members of both boards and staffs should meet to build on the conversation.

“If we want to show the community that we’re serious, at some point both boards are going to have to hang their hat on a vote … that this is something we’re going to commit ourselves to,” he said.

Other officials balked at the idea, saying staffers in the two systems have plenty to work on without further board input.

SMMUSD board member Oscar de la Torre suggested forming a joint subcommittee specifically to address the achievement gap and related issues. He also advocated for giving local students priority enrollment access to SMC.

“We live in a resource-rich community,” he said. “Our task, as leaders, is to show goodwill and come up with some initiatives that will have a positive impact on our students.”

SMMUSD board member Maria Leon-Vazquez said the partnership should focus on rearranging educational priorities, noting that not all students are ready for four-year universities.

Instead of simply ushering students into college, she said, counselors in both systems should encourage students to find their passions and steer them toward the appropriate colleges, courses and majors.

SMC board member Barry Snell said educational success has a social component and emphasized the need for a culture shift among students and parents who don’t see college attendance as a foregone conclusion.

“Knowing that you’re prepared for college is a mindset,” he said, acknowledging that the process is often more challenging for students whose parents did not attend college. “It must be an incredibly difficult maze. … My concern, and hopefully one of our strong goals, is [getting] those students and parents prepared and understanding what college readiness is.”

SMC board chairman Rob Rader noted the historic nature of the joint meeting and hoped it would lead to long-term impacts.

“I suspect in 10 or 20 years, people will look back and say, ‘Where were you when these boards first met?'” he said. “It’ll be like Woodstock.”

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