(from June 24, 2015)
The future Lynn Class of 2020 will finish seventh grade this week. Next year, these children will decide which of our high schools to attend. That’s their next step on the path to a graduation that we’ll be celebrating in five years’ time.
While we celebrate the achievements from another completed school year, we can acknowledge the challenges facing the Class of 2020 and in turn, Lynn as a city.
Good jobs require more and more training while the price of college continues to rise. According to census data, 11 percent of people on the North Shore do not have a high school degree or its equivalent. That number is almost double in Lynn at 20 percent
There are significant economic costs to low educational attainment. Lynn workers without a high school degree or its equivalent earn roughly 57 percent less than the Lynn median. If Lynn had the same share of graduates as the rest of Essex County, it would add over $200 million annually to the city’s economy.
Helping the Class of 2020 succeed will therefore help the City of Lynn succeed. But it’s not as simple as asking students to stay in school longer. We know that in today’s economy, more school won’t necessarily lead to a good job. One strategy for success is building more pathways for students from our high schools to college and jobs based on feedback from local employers.
Lynn already has momentum on this front. We start from an enviable position having our own vocational and technical school. We also have innovative programs in the Lynn Public Schools — such as the Cisco Systems training program that began at Lynn English and the partnership with North Shore Community College’s CommUniverCity initiative to deepen NSCC ties in Lynn.
The community has also chipped in with programs such as the well-respected E-Team machinist training for adult learners and employer site visits for teachers organized by the North Shore Workforce Investment Board (WIB).
Here are some concrete ways we can build on our momentum. First, we can offer more health care-oriented programs at Lynn Tech. The North Shore WIB has identified health care as a critical industry for local employers and a high-potential career for job seekers. The state supports an array of health-related technical programs that Lynn Tech could add. Let’s support Lynn Tech as it seeks to do that.
Second, we can reach out to students who expressed an interest in career technical education but could not meet Lynn Tech’s admissions criteria. The district could add a targeted strategy for students who did not get in to Lynn Tech the first time around to offer opportunities that are in line with their expressed interest in technical fields. That might include programs like field-specific mentoring relationships and career presentations.
Third, we can develop more options for Lynn students to earn college credits through early college and dual enrollment. These programs, when offered with the right academic coaching and support, position students for success after high school by giving them a jumpstart on the credits they need for a college degree and demystifying higher education.
We can learn from a small early college pilot that LPS and NSCC are winding down and strengthen the NSCC-LPS connection to bring early college to scale for the many students who would benefit.
Fourth, we can leverage the public assets we have in our schools to create pathways for Lynners of all ages who need new skills to find a good job.
New programs have costs, but we can keep them below what they would be otherwise by opening school facilities when they are not in use. We already have a great model for building such a program using grant money in the work of the North Shore Labor Council and Essex County Community Organization on the E-Team.
Good luck to the Class of 2020 as you start to plan your high school career and best wishes for a great summer. Over the break, let’s all keep working together on setting up pathways to success for the Class of 2020 and the rest of the students of the Lynn Public Schools.
Jared Nicholson is a candidate for the Lynn School Committee. He is an attorney at Northeast Legal Aid in Lynn, where he provides free legal help to small businesses that can’t afford it to help them get started and grow in Lynn.