The Pacific Collegiate School is a rigorous charter high school that serves students in Santa Cruz, California. The Pacific Collegiate School, or PCS, is California’s top-ranked, open-admission public high school and, as a leader in the charter education debate in Santa Cruz, PCS has demonstrated the best charter schools have to offer. As far back as the 1970s, a small group of Santa Cruz parents and teachers met to discuss education reform. This group of motivated individuals wanted to build a school with a foundation of academic excellence, but they also firmly believed that the large majority of students are capable of high achievement, not just gifted kids with the means for private schools. When California passed charter school legislation in 1992, these educators saw their chance, and in 1999, after decades of theorizing, debating, and intensive planning, they were awarded a charter from the local school district and opened PCS.
Today, PCS is the top-ranked, open-admission public high school in the state, offering rigorous, college preparatory curriculum to a broad range of students. Unlike many successful charter programs, PCS is not a replicated, multi-school organization, but rather a single school built from the ground up. Regardless, other schools could learn a lot from PCS’ example. In particular, PCS has come to offer the best education in the district at the least cost, while still maintaining a positive relationship with the school board. Whereas some districts are hostile towards their charters, Santa Cruz residents see PCS as a different option for parents and students who feel they don’t fit in the regular system. While only 67% of students in the district achieved proficiency in English, 91% of PCS students achieved or exceeded the standards. Along the same lines, while only 61% of students in the district achieved proficiency in Math, 83% of PCS students made it. Nearly 100% of PCS students go on to college or university, and the schools where these students matriculate could rival those of top private high schools. Through a rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum, dedicated teachers, and a strong community, Pacific Collegiate School has built itself a very strong reputation.
The school is acclaimed by Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, the College Board, and received the Blue Ribbon Award in 2008. However, despite the school’s external success, its greatest achievement is perhaps maintaining an atmosphere where alumni end up excelling at what they love, and the whole community feels singularly satisfied with the state of the organization. One parent and former board member remarked “I would’ve loved it here,” and students who were interviewed pointed to the sense of gratification they feel achieving great things, like the AP curriculum and stellar fine arts program. Pacific Collegiate does what a public school is supposed to do: challenge and support all its students and make the whole community a better place.
For more information about Pacific Collegiate School, visit www.pacificcollegiate.com.
About #ChartersWork: The Pacific Research Institute’s Center for Education is showcasing success stories from charter schools and individual charter school students to promote the benefits of school choice.
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