Community Engagement

Building National Connections to Support Education

As a "Grad Nation Community," San Joaquin County pledges to work toward increasing the local graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020
Tariq Bruno, Carl Toliver and Dave Frederickson attend the Building a Grad Nation Summit in Washington, D.C.

Tariq Bruno, Carl Toliver and Dave Frederickson - all representatives of the Beyond our Gates Community Council - attend the Building a Grad Nation Summit on behalf of San Joaquin County.

by Jennifer Torres SidersMar 30, 2012
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Through the work of University of the Pacific's Beyond Our Gates Community Council, the Benerd School of Education, local educators and other supporters, San Joaquin County recently was designated a "Grad Nation Community," one of several dozen places throughout the country to have committed to ambitious goals for ending the nation's high school dropout crisis.

The Grad Nation Communities program is spearheaded by America's Promise Alliance, the country's largest partnership netowrk working to improve the lives of young people. As a Grad Nation Community, San Joaquin County joins a coalition working to better prepare young people for college and the 21st Century workforce.

In recognition of the community's ongoing efforts, America's Promise paid for three representatives of the Community Council - an advisory group made up of local leaders who help plan Pacific's ongoing community-engagement priorities - to the Building a Grad Nation Summit. Held in Washington D.C., the summit drew about 1,000 people from 42 states to discuss strategies for solving the dropout problem.

"If there's anything that I really came back with, it's the idea that business communities can come together with school districts to support student learning in ways that prepare young people for a successful future," said Tariq Bruno, executive director of Stockton Urban Academies and a member of the Community Council. Bruno attended the Building a Grad Nation Summit along with Carl Toliver, superintendent of the Stockton Unified School District, and Dave Frederickson, a visiting professor at Pacific.

San Joaquin County's designation as a Grad Nation Community is an outcome of Pacific's inaugural Beyond Our Gates Dialogue of Distinction, held in October. The event featured remarks from Elizabeth Molina Morgan, a school-transformation expert and director of the Grad Nation campaign.

"In order to end the nation's dropout crisis and ensure a more succesful future for the most vulnerable young people, we have to support change at the local level, and that means working to help transform those schools that are struggling the most," Morgan said. "Our Grad Nation Communities are an essential part of America's Promise's overall dropout prevention work. Through our partnership with these communities, we can make significant progress toward achieving our 2020 goals of 90 percent graduation, and community by community, make for a more prosperous future for the country."

Since Morgan's visit, Pacific has brought together groups of local educators, from classroom teachers to superintendents - as well as the business, nonprofit, government, faith and media leaders who make up the Community Council - to discuss how San Joaquin County might benefit from and contribute to Grad Nation's mission.

Grad Nation communities are called on to engage cross-sector stakeholders to collaborate in increasing local graduation rates; to identify common priorities; to share best practices; and to provide annual updates on progress and challenges.

America's Promise offers national recognition, as well as access to communications tools, professional development opportunities and other services.

San Joaquin County has long struggled with dropout rates well above the state average. According to California Department of Education records, nearly a quarter of local students leave high school without a diploma. Of those who do graduate, only about 28 percent have passed the courses necessary for admission to a state college or university. The region also faces daunting educational realities: About 60 percent of children qualify for subsidized school lunches based on their parents' low incomes, and about 22,000 speak a language other than English at home.

Grad Nation is the second phase of America's Promise's dropout prevention campaign, which was launched in 2008. Between 2008 and 2010, America's Promise sponsored 105 Dropout Prevention summits - including one in Stockton - bringing nearly 40,000 policy, business, community and faith leaders together with nonprofits, parents and young people to discuss the dropout crisis and begin a dialogue on solutions.

Launched in 2010, Beyond Our Gates represents Pacific's commitment to forging community partnerships that improve lives in our region. It has resulted in the Tomorrow Project, a range of academies that work directly with students and families to improve educational achievement; the Dialogues of Distinction, a series of public forums focused on our community's most critical challenges; and other initiatives. For more information, visit