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Press Release: PCS Proposes Significant Expansion of Access to Traditionally Underserved Students

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 18, 2019
Dr. Maria Reitano
Head of School
831-479-7785 x3102
SANTA CRUZ, California. Pacific Collegiate School (PCS), a public charter school in Santa Cruz serving middle and high school students, has regularly been recognized as one of America’s best public schools. PCS leadership is seeking to ensure that the opportunity to attend such a school is available to even more traditionally underserved students. In its Charter Renewal Petition to the Santa Cruz County Board of Education for the term of 2020-2025, PCS proposes significant actions to increase diversity at PCS, including substantially increasing the number of available spots in their admissions lottery for students who are either First-to-College (FTC) and/or who are eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Meals (FRPM).
“PCS is taking bold steps toward realizing our vision of providing equal access and support to all students in our community who seek a high-quality college preparatory and fine arts education,” said Diana Holm, PCS Board President. “I am so proud of our PCS leadership and community for recognizing and supporting our vision of a school that truly reflects the diversity of Santa Cruz County.”

About PCS’ First-to-College Program

PCS, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, offers a college preparatory program with access to an extensive curriculum of advanced placement courses for all its students. Admission to the school is by public, random lottery held each March, to fill a 7th grade class of approximately 92 students (separate lotteries for other grades are also held to fill any vacant spots).
To ensure access for students from traditionally underserved populations and promote a more diverse student body, PCS introduced a separate lottery for First-to-College (FTC) students in 2011-2012, which is held prior to the general lottery. The number of spots in the 7th grade reserved for FTC students increased from 10% of available capacity to 15% between 2011 and 2019. This effort produced a moderate increase in socioeconomic and racial diversity in the school, and in 2020, the first cohort of students admitted through the FTC lottery will graduate with impressive academic performance.

Widening access for 2020-25

Building on that initial success, the PCS Board of Directors is proposing a dramatic increase to the percentage of spots reserved for students from traditionally underserved populations, doubling it from 15% to 30% in the 7th grade, and expanding eligibility for the preference to include students who are eligible to receive FRPM.
PCS is additionally requesting a modification to its charter to pilot a 6th grade program on its existing campus, as a key component of its plan to increase significantly the diversity of its student body. If approved, admission to the 6th grade program would also be conducted via lottery, with 50% of spots in the initial class reserved for students from underrepresented backgrounds.
The goals of the proposed 6th grade pilot are threefold: 1) To ameliorate the “double jump” most students must make to attend PCS in 7th grade if they attend elementary schools that end in 5th grade, which may currently deter public school students from applying; 2) to create a critical mass of underrepresented students in the 6th grade that will enhance a climate of inclusion and belonging; and 3) to provide these younger students with a full year of preparation and additional supports specifically designed to prepare students for the challenging 7th-12th grade PCS curriculum.
"As institutional leaders, it is our responsibility to reduce the historical and institutional barriers to success for all students. We should invest in programs that will allow us to become a more inclusive community, but we must also be extremely intentional in ensuring that our modes of encouragement substantively support such work. At PCS, we believe that supporting all students is not only a form of social and educational justice, but also a critical way to provide multifaceted role models and expose students and teachers to new ways of thinking," said UCSC Professor of Astrophysics & Astronomy and PCS Board Member Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz.

Fostering an inclusive school culture

In recent years, the PCS Board of Directors has begun to explore additional strategies to increase diversity within the student body. The school has hired a Diversity Outreach Coordinator to partner with a variety of community organizations and build to build awareness of the PCS opportunity in the local community. PCS has also expanded its admissions information sessions to locations county-wide, holding some sessions in Spanish.
PCS’ Charter Renewal Petition for 2020-25 includes an updated Diversity Plan, which outlines expanded plans to recruit a more diverse student population, as well as to build more mechanisms for student support, and foster an inclusive and supportive school culture. “PCS looks forward to entering the next chapter in the life of our outstanding school by welcoming and supporting the success of a more diverse student body,” said Dr. Maria Reitano, Head of School.

Closing the achievement gap

In its most recent Annual Report to the Santa Cruz County Board of Education, PCS shared data regarding the outstanding academic performance of our students. This included a Class of 2020 Cohort analysis of California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, which demonstrated significant growth for PCS students over time. For example, in English Language Arts, the number of students meeting or exceeding state standards increased by 15% or more for the whole school and for all socioeconomic and ethnic subgroups. Shifts in mathematics scores reflected similar growth by PCS students over time, as the number of students meeting or exceeding state math standards increased by 10% or more schoolwide and for all socioeconomic and ethnic subgroups. PCS students excel by other metrics as well: 100% of graduates satisfy UC/CSU a-g requirements, and over 95% of PCS students graduate with a passing score (3, 4, or 5) on at least one Advanced Placement (AP) exam.
To ensure that all students experience these same levels of success at PCS, the Diversity Plan for 2020-2025 includes partnership with a nationally recognized program for supporting underrepresented and first-to-college students. Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) is a proven system of school supports that will enhance PCS's academic program and build on its legacy of accomplishment.

Charter Renewal Timeline

The Santa Cruz County Board of Education will hold a public hearing on November 21st, 2019 to consider PCS’ Charter Renewal Petition for 2020-25, as well as the request for material revision to the charter that would allow the proposed 6th grade pilot. The Board will vote on the petition and and revision at its December 19, 2019 public board meeting.

About Pacific Collegiate School

Pacific Collegiate School ( is an independent public charter school open to any student seeking a rigorous college preparatory education in Santa Cruz County. PCS has consistently earned top honors for its outstanding college preparatory program from leading news and educational organizations. U.S. News and World Report has consistently ranked PCS among the top high schools in the nation. In 2019, PCS earned distinction as the #4 high school and #12 charter school in California, and the #1 high school in the Santa Cruz area.