Written by Patricia Hawke for

San Diego Schools are concerned with closing the achievement gap and providing opportunities for its students from preschool to graduation. The task is challenging because of the district’s size, diversity, and socio-economic makeup. One way that San Diego Schools are trying to meet these challenges is by attacking the problems from both ends.
The San Diego Schools and their famous home team the San Diego Padres are in the 13th year of a community service initiative that provides motivation and financial incentives to high school students. The Padres Scholars program was started in 1995 to encourage and help San Diego Schools students to attend a four-year college.
The program provides selected San Diego Schools scholars with $5,000 upon graduation- provided they have met grade and behavior standards. Padres players pay for the first half of the funds and team management the second. To qualify as a Padres Scholar, a student in the San Diego Schools must participate in AVID.
The AVID program is an elective that targets students in San Diego Schools who are the first to attend college in their family, or are from a low-income group, and show academic potential based on grades and desire. AVID students receive direct instruction in motivational, academic, reading, and writing skills weekly. In addition, a tutor provided by San Diego Schools leads two hours of group study a week. Administrators and teachers in the San Diego Schools are hopeful that this added support will help these at-risk students qualify for and excel in a four-year college.
The economic impact of education in the San Diego Schools doesn’t begin in high school. Since low-income parents are less likely to afford preschool, or to recognize the importance of early learning, educators in San Diego Schools say that the learning gap starts early. In fact, Superintendent of San Diego Schools Randy Ward has called preschool “the civil rights issue of today.”
San Diego Schools have seen a lot of support for a Preschool for All initiative. The First 5 Commission started the Preschool for All project with funding from Proposition 10 and the taxes on tobacco products. Ward, once a preschool teacher in Boston Schools, sees preschool as an equity, social and educational issue.
While the project has great support from teachers in San Diego Schools, they realize that a link between early education and future success will need to be proven to gain on-going community support. Strong support by the top administrators of San Diego Schools bodes well for the program’s short-term existence; but politics and finances make its future unclear. San Diego Schools are trying to stop students from slipping through the achievement gap when they first enter public school, and as they prepare to leave it.