San Jose Unified School District A Case Study: Preparing Students for College and Career

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School districts across the country increasingly are shattering the myth that some students can’t learn as much as others. Take the San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD). Here, educators are proving that students from all backgrounds can access rigorous curricula. For more than a decade, the district has embraced college readiness as its mission.

This case study examines the challenges and successes the leaders of SJUSD faced in navigating uncharted waters toward the destination of college-ready graduates. No other urban districts had been there; there were no models to learn from, no recipes to follow. But leaders believed deeply that the high school diploma should hold equal value for everyone, serve as a gateway to opportunity, and provide graduates with the option to go to college if they chose. Sadly, far too many students, particularly low-income students and students of color graduated with skills that would lead only to dead-end jobs and lives on the margin. San Jose educators rejected this kind of inequity. And they were determined to level the playing field.

Thus, SJUSD became the first district in the state to expect students to complete the University of California and California State University systems’ entrance requirements (commonly called the A-G requirements, see Table 1) to earn a high school diploma. Many observers thought this bold vision was doomed to failure. Yet district leaders moved forward, reaching out to stakeholders and planning for implementation.

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Karla Fernandez

Communications Manager

Karla Fernandez (she/her/hers) joins Ed Trust–West as a Communications Manager with over 11 years of experience advancing social impact initiatives.

Karla started her career as a teacher at Chicago Public Schools and UIC College Prep. After teaching, Karla joined United Friends of the Children to support LA County’s youth in foster care as a college counselor. Through Leadership for Educational Equity, Karla also served as a Policy Advisor Fellow for the office of a Los Angeles Unified School Board Member. She solidified her interests in policy analysis and quantitative research during her time with the Price Center for Social Innovation, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, and the USC Presidential Working Group on Sustainability. Before joining The Education Trust–West, Karla was the Associate Director for the Southeast Los Angeles (SELA) Collaborative, a network of nonprofits advocating for communities in SELA.

Karla holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, a Master of Public Policy from the USC Price School of Public Policy, and a Graduate Certificate in Policy Advocacy from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Karla is based out of southern California and is passionate about using data analysis, communications, and digital strategies for policy advocacy and social justice efforts.