A recent national report, “Building A GradNation,” identified Oregon as having one of the lowest four-year graduation rates in the country, with only 68 percent of students receiving a high school diploma last June.

Our current high school outcomes are unacceptable, leaving far too many students without the skills they need to succeed. As educational leaders, we are deeply concerned about these numbers and what they mean for the lives of our students and the future of our state.

Our governor and state leaders have called out this issue as a key priority, and have adopted the state’s ambitious 40-40-20 goal, which aims to see 100 percent of students complete high school by the year 2025, with 80 percent going on to higher education or workforce training. We want and need to see dramatically different outcomes for our students, and that means we are significantly changing the way we approach education in our state.

We wanted to share a bit about this new approach to student success and the work underway to bring together partners who support students from birth through higher education, social services to health care, so that students and families receive the coordinated, high-quality supports and resources they need.

The path to high school graduation begins well before a student enters kindergarten and extends past high school with a clear pathway to higher education and career training. We all need to work together to move the dial on these outcomes.

To this end, we have created and invested in regional partnerships in communities around the state. These partnerships, known as Early Learning Hubs, are working to build a foundation for learning that begins with healthy, stable families and strong connections with K-12 education so that students arrive at kindergarten ready to learn.

In the Portland area, the Multnomah Early Learning Hub brings together local social service, health and education resources to ensure that students are healthy, have their basic needs taken care of, and that families have access to tools to support early learning, whether that be through high-quality preschool or through learning in the home. This collaborative approach will drive local solutions to address local needs and better support Portland students and families in those vital first five years of a child’s life.

Students of color and low-income students often arrive at kindergarten already behind their peers and these gaps only widen as children progress through the system. Our aim is to reduce or eliminate early achievement gaps so that all students can enter kindergarten ready to learn and stay on track to future success.

Just as the story doesn’t begin at high school, it doesn’t end there either. Most of the jobs of the future will require some type of college degree or workforce training. We are working to create more affordable and accessible pathways to higher education and training programs so that students are prepared for their futures.

As part of $75 million in Strategic Investments approved by the 2013 Legislature, we recently awarded grants to regional partnerships comprised of school districts, nonprofits, community colleges, and universities to streamline the links between high school and higher education. Through these partnerships we are creating more opportunities for students to receive college credits in high school.

We want to expand on programs such as the successful partnership between Jefferson High School and Portland Community College where Jefferson students attend PCC classes, earn college credits, and gain exposure to and confidence with college-level work. We know that these types of experiences not only impact high school graduation rates but also increase the likelihood of students going on to and succeeding in college.

Our schools and broader community also are focusing on key leverage points in the intervening years that build on this strong early start so that students are prepared to take advantage of these pathways to higher education and workforce training. These efforts include an increased focus on full-day kindergarten, which will be offered statewide starting in 2015.

In kindergarten, students learn foundational reading and math skills which they will build on in later years. Full-day programs provide more time to develop these critical skills so that students are on track to read at grade level by third grade.

Students who meet this third-grade reading benchmark are four times more likely to graduate high school. Increasing the number of strong early readers will save our state millions in remedial education costs that we can drive to other areas of the education system to support student success.

The transformation in how we prepare students for graduation and their futures will not happen overnight, but we will work tirelessly with communities around the state to ensure that many more students are on the path to a promising and prosperous future.

The recently released graduation report serves as a reminder of the urgency of this work and the importance of getting it right. Our students and our state cannot afford anything less.

Rob Saxton is the state deputy superintendent of public instruction. Nancy Golden is the state chief education officer. Jada Rupley is the director of the state Early Learning System. Ben Cannon is executive director of the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

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