America’s most selective public high schools offer high-performing, low-income students a life-changing opportunity to gain the academic rigor, course offerings, counseling and peer community too often missing in their neighborhood schools.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation recently hosted a national convening of over 100 principals from many of the nation’s top selective public high schools, and from that meeting has emerged a coalition that will advocate on behalf of high-achieving students with financial need.

Coalition of Leaders for Advanced Student Success

Todd Mann, executive director of the Magnet Schools of America and the National Consortium of Secondary STEM Schools, along with Crystal Bonds, president of the National Consortium of Secondary STEM Schools and principal of the High School for Math, Science, and Engineering at City University of New York's City College, announced the creation of a new advocacy organization, which will empower principals to raise their voices collectively in support of high-performing, low-income students. The new advocacy group, C.L.A.S.S. (Coalition of Leaders for Advanced Student Success), will include principals from across the nation and will be led by a steering committee of experienced school leaders and educators. Attendees were invited and encouraged to add their voices to this important effort.

“Too often, it is assumed that these students will be fine on their own, when that is not the reality,” said Harold O. Levy, Executive Director, Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

This coalition of principals represents the kind of direct, ground level change needed to close the Excellence Gap. It will address a persistent and growing Excellence Gap in the American education system: the nation’s highest-achieving students with financial need are not receiving sufficient access or support to match the performance of their high-income peers.

Cooke Foundation Executive Director Harold O. Levy

Cooke Foundation executive director, Harold Levy, told the gathered school leaders: “Too often, it is assumed that these students will be fine on their own, when that is not the reality.” Levy encouraged principals to begin thinking about how their schools approach, evaluate and welcome this demographic of students.

Best practices shared with the audience to better identify, recruit, and prepare high-performing students with financial need for success in selective high schools included steps to improve the talent pipeline from local elementary and middle schools, utilizing distance and online education, and subsidizing exam-prep and bridge programs.

Excellence Gap and Education in the United States

John King, deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, emphasized the importance of access policies in addition to equitable admissions practices, pointing out that families of limited means may not even be aware how to navigate admission to a selective high school.

A Moment of Obligation

The day concluded with an inspirational keynote address from Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of Society for Science and the Public, founder of the Global Fund for Children, as well as a former student of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. In her speech, Ajmera discussed the opportunities afforded by attending a selective public high school, opportunities that laid the groundwork for her future achievements. She described experiencing a pivotal “moment of obligation,” when she knew she must use the education she received to do something positive in the world.

Cooke Foundation Grants Competition & Scholarship Opportunities

The summit included a call for grant proposals from schools represented at the convening. Grants of $50,000-$100,000 will be awarded to five to 10 schools that propose innovative ways to improve access, support, and advocacy within their districts for high-achieving students with financial need. Following the grant announcement, representatives from the Cooke Foundation, Gates Millennium Scholarship, Leadership for a Diverse America, the Horatio Alger Association, and the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Program shared scholarship opportunities and resources.

A panel also answered questions about specific strategies schools can use to better support their high-performing students to identify and apply for competitive scholarships.

Video highlights from event

February 2015 Principals Convening Video Playlist

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