According to the Louisiana Department of Education, in 2016 only 57 percent of high school seniors in Louisiana enrolled in college in the fall. As I think about how we can better prepare our students for post-secondary opportunities, I can’t help but reflect on my road to college. Although I was a strong student, no one at my high school ever sat me down to have a conversation about what I would do after high school graduation. I was never exposed to the process of applying to college, and no one in my family had been. College just wasn’t a topic of conversation.
I grew up in a single-parent household in Biloxi, Mississippi, and in 4th grade, I had this teacher, Ms. Caillavet — red hair, warm smile, and creative. She cared so much about every student, and just had a way of making you want to work your behind off, no matter what was being taught. She fostered strong connections with students and taught us to believe in ourselves and to have fun while learning. She was all in. Every day. And we wanted to be all in with her.
I’ve had a long, roundabout journey through education. When I look back on that journey, I’m proud of the trail I took and wouldn’t change it for the world — through elementary school and high school, eight years in the United States Army, and eventually an associate’s, a bachelor’s, and a master’s degree. But I still wonder how things may have been different if I’d had a teacher like Ms. Caillavet as a mentor during my teenage years.
More than 40 years after I first met Ms. Caillavet, I am now leading IDEA Public Schools, a family of tuition-free charter schools that prepares students for success in college and life. At IDEA, we focus on making learning personal for each student so they become critical thinkers ready to take on college and life. For 11 years, 100 percent of seniors have been accepted to college and nearly 100 percent have matriculated. We pride ourselves on ensuring every student is prepared for success in college and life by providing them with resources starting in elementary school.
By the time IDEA juniors and sophomores meet with college counselors, they have already stepped foot on multiple college campuses and experienced the exhilaration of being a student at a university. We can’t wait to bring this level of determination and success to the families of Baton Rouge.
When IDEA Public Schools opens its doors to students in August 2018 at IDEA Cortana and IDEA Innovation, we will help ensure more students in our region go to college. I’m thrilled to lead IDEA Public Schools into the community I care so much about and call home, and I can’t wait to help provide kids in the community with the type of education that makes their college dreams a reality.
Kenneth Campbell is executive director of IDEA Public Schools’ Southern Louisiana Region.