Williams High School college readiness rate higher than county, state

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The Davis High School Mariachi Band performs at a college-readiness celebration at Williams High School on Monday. Williams Unified plans to offer a similar music program at the high school next year.

Iqbal Grewal plans to practice medicine; Juan Melesio intends to be a billionaire industry giant and Sheila Sandoval wants to build skyscrapers.

The Williams High School seniors aren’t just exceptional students but are three of the 53.4 percent of the Class of 2017 who are graduating on June 2 ready to attend college, and accepted for admission to a two or four-year college.

“Williams doesn’t have everything a big high school has, but it’s getting there,” said Grewal, 17, at a celebration Monday acknowledging the achievement of students who are college-ready.

Recognizing the benefits of a college education, administrators and teachers at Williams High School have made college preparation a priority, said Superintendent Edgar Lampkin.

The 53.4 percent of Williams seniors who have completed the rigorous coursework necessary for admission to the University of California and the California State University system, referred to as “a-g” courses, is up from 38.8 percent last year and 18 percent just four years ago.

More noteworthy, Williams seniors who are college-ready not only exceed Colusa County’s overall rate of 28.3 percent but California’s rate of 45.4 percent.

“That is almost unheard of,” Lampkin said.

Additionally, Williams High School has seen 100 percent of its senior class graduate each of the past two years.

District officials credit the advances in student achievement in Williams to a number of factors, but most importantly to the hiring of the new high school career counselor at the beginning of this school year.

“The students jokingly called me a stalker, and you could say I was sort of stalking them,” said counselor Veronica Rivera.

Rivera said the first thing she did this year was analyze each senior’s transcripts and class schedules to make sure they were on a path to meeting college-readiness guidelines and could be eligible to attend  a college or university by the end of the year.

In some instances, Rivera said students simply needed to pick up an additional class or make a schedule change. In other instances, students just needed more encouragement and guidance to meet or surpass the school’s college-readiness goal.

“To go to college, students first have to become eligible,” she said. “That so many our students are; that is what I’m most proud of.”

Rivera’s next step was to get seniors to actually apply to a number of colleges and universities, regardless of their immediate plans or the financial viability of attending.

“Even if a student ultimately decides not to go, I believe it is good for their self-esteem to know that they qualified and was accepted to a college or university,” Rivera said. “There is nothing worse than a student thinking, ‘I don’t know if I could have gone to college, because I didn’t apply.’”

But that Williams High School greatly exceeds local and state college-readiness rates also speaks to the high school’s staff and the availability and quality of courses, according to graduating seniors.

“I’m prepared for college because the school has a lot of AP classes, and the school also encouraged us to take college courses out there at the college,” said Melesia, who plans to attend American River College before transferring to the University of California at Davis or Los Angeles to major in biological sciences.

Melesia, took three classes at Woodland College’s Williams campus, and one at the high school that counts for both college and high school credit.

“I think I have a pretty good idea what college is all about,” he said.

Students credit not only the new career counselor for their successes, but the quality of the staff at Williams High School, particularly praising teachers Jonathon Mireles, Robert Tamayo, and Christy Honeycutt.

While many in this year’s graduating class have attended schools in Williams Unified School District all or most of their lives, even newcomers to the high school rose to the challenge of being ready for college by graduation.

First year Williams student, Armando Juarez, 18, will enter College of the Siskiyous in the fall to explore majors like computer engineering, environmental studies or psychology, despite attending two years of high school in Southern California and one year in Colorado.

“Some counties and states have different graduation requirements,” Juarez said. “I lost some credits, but otherwise I did very well here in Williams.”

Williams High School Principal Nicholas Richter said his students worked very hard to meet the challenge of attaining a better than 50 percent college-readiness rate, and many will go on to college.

After commencement exercises, more than a dozen graduates plan to start college at the Woodland College campus in Williams, while others plan to head off to Chico State, Sacramento State or colleges and universities around California and the U.S.

Some graduates may ultimately go directly into the workforce, marry and raise a family, join the military or put off furthering their education to a later date.

“Whether they go to college or not is really up to them,” Richter said. “But if they don’t, it’s not because they had no other options.”

District officials said they would continue to encourage Williams High School students, which are predominantly Latino, to complete a-g courses in an effort to expand college access among students who have traditionally been underrepresented in higher education.

According to the Department of Education, Latinos fall behind Asians, white and African American students in completing the a-g coursework, which is a sequence of classes that consists of yearlong courses in seven subject areas, including history, English Language Arts, mathematics and laboratory sciences.

“We are doing a lot of great things here in Williams to assure our students have the very best education possible,” Lampkin said.