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Set a Vision to Guide the Future

August 6, 2021

At a Glance

In Part 1 of our three-part series “Three Big Lessons in Six Years,” learn how leaders of C-Town Pathways in Massachusetts brought partners together to embrace a shared vision of non-negotiables in early college initiatives.

Joanna Mawhinney

Starting a new early college initiative is complicated. It requires bringing together many partners that have different needs and priorities to work toward a common goal: providing high school students with the opportunity to earn college credits that will set them up for success in their postsecondary journeys and future careers.

During the startup phase of a new early college initiative, it is useful to begin by setting a common guiding vision and determining the team’s non-negotiables. With a vision and non-negotiables firmly in place, it becomes much easier for the team to navigate decisions about design elements of the program. This allows the core team to move past the startup phase more quickly, articulate a definition of success that aligns with the school’s unique priorities, and solidify a foundation for future growth and sustainability.

The experience of the C-Town Pathways team underscores that establishing design principles of early college pathways will often require iteration to fully reflect a school’s core values and priorities. Educators should make time for the creative and challenging work of articulating a shared vision and establishing a list of non-negotiables, testing which programmatic details best help the school realize its vision, and then crafting messaging that successfully communicates the vision in a way that is compelling to students and parents.

The Series: Three Big Lessons in Six Years

Three Big Lessons in Six Years is both a reflection on the past and a look ahead to the future at Charlestown High School and other early college programs across the country. The purpose of this series is to document essential design elements, operational structures, and critical support for students to be successful. It also presents an authentic view of the troubleshooting required to overcome key initial challenges.

In documenting the clarity that comes with hindsight, but also the inevitability of learning as you go, our hope is that educators feel empowered to take informed risks while avoiding some of the growing pains and challenges CHS experienced along the way. This series was made possible by support from the Linde Family Foundation.

Lesson 2: Build a Framework That Allows for Structure and Flexibility

Learn how the team at Charlestown High School created a structured early college pathways experience that also allows for flexibility and individualization of students’ early college journeys.

Read Lesson 2

Lesson 3: Build a ‘Both/And’ Team

Learn how C-Town Pathways built a “both/and” team of staff that can both create a vision for the program and keep that program running through day-to-day challenges, ensuring its success.

Read Lesson 3

About C-Town Pathways

Six years in, the C-Town Pathways initiative at Charlestown High School (CHS) and Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) in Boston has blossomed into a transformative school model.

As part of their goal to build the youth talent pipeline for the information technology industry, SAP , a global software company and JFF partner, approached CHS to sponsor and co-design the school’s first early college pathway, Information Technology. Partnership and generous funding from SAP propelled the launch of C-Town Pathways and has helped to sustain and grow the initiative through the present day. Since the launch of the Information Technology Pathway in 2015, the school has added two additional pathways, Business and Health, and enrollment has grown to roughly 125 students across grades 9 to 12.

JFF’s headquarters in Boston is only a few miles from CHS. We’ve led early college high school initiatives across the country for nearly 20 years and have been fortunate to serve as a close partner and intermediary supporting the work at CHS from day one. We’ve worked side by side with CHS, BHCC, and SAP staff to convene meetings, develop strategic plans, design programming, and steward funding, and have even attended field trips and ordered pizza for students. This role has provided us unique insight into the type of leaders, mindsets, and work necessary to stand up early college pathways.

In addition to setting hundreds of students on a track to postsecondary education with dozens of free college credits in hand, C-Town Pathways has served as a case study for the state’s new early college high school designation process. But even as C-Town Pathways enrollment has grown and become more formally embedded in the school’s structure and culture, it continues to rely on the iterative learning process that has been central to its success.

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