February 10, 2017

A group of community leaders in Palm Beach County first convened in May 2015 to figure out how to improve college access and completion in the area they serve.

More recently, that group spent months developing a strategic plan and leveraging relationships among Palm Beach’s school district, higher education institutions, and community groups.

The result is Achieve Palm Beach County, a local college access network that seeks to collectively develop and ensure an integrated support system from middle school through postsecondary that empowers students for career success.

Achieve Palm Beach County recently had its official launch at a kickoff event attended by almost 150 community leaders representing the county’s philanthropic, business, educational and governmental segments.

“This is a conversation for serious thinkers,” said William Fleming, president of Palm Beach Atlantic University.

Currently, only 42.3 percent of Palm Beach County’s public high school graduates —and only 31 percent of low-income graduates — are predicted to receive a postsecondary credential within six years of graduating high school. Both figures are well below the projected 60 percent postsecondary attainment rate required to meet workforce demands by 2025.

The launch of Achieve Palm Beach County was highlighted by several panel discussions featuring the area’s business, government, fundraising, and education leaders.

“We can’t just pass the baton (in education),” said Robert Avossa, superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County. Avossa was one of the participants during the education leader panel. “Postsecondary attainment matters to us.  From kindergarten to 12th grade, we’ve invested $100,000 in each child.  Without connecting them to the next step, whether it’s college or a high quality certificate, that community investment is wasted.”

Donald Kiselewski is the director of external affairs at Florida Power & Light Company. He participated in the event’s business leader panel.

“We want to recruit from our local community,” Kiselewski said.  He added that bolstering the area from within will eventually attract outside talent. “When we do have to recruit talent from outside the area, [new employees] want to know their kids will be able to reach their full potential.”

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio added that the city has had trouble filling some of its information technology jobs.

“We’ve had 17 openings in the city’s IT department over the last 2 ½ years and we still don’t have all of the positions filled,” Muoio said.

Laurie George, president and CEO of United Way of Palm Beach County, took part in the funder panel and urged her fellow community leaders to follow through with Achieve’s mission.

“Stick with it,” George said. “This isn’t going to be done in a year.”

Attendees were urged to stay after the event’s conclusion and join the working groups tackling one of four areas of focus in Achieve’s strategic plan:

1. Parent engagement and support.

2. Postsecondary advising for high school students.

3. FAFSA completion.

4. Scholarships, non-financial resources and support services for students.

Florida CAN congratulates Achieve Palm Beach County on a successful launch, and we look forward to celebrating its achievements in the years to come!

If you’d like to learn more about Achieve Palm Beach County, click here.

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