Equity, innovation and scaling impact emphasized at 5th Annual 60 by 25 Network Conference

Jocelyn Sharif addressed the crowd at the 5th Annual 60 by 25 Conference on Feb. 6.

Jocelyn Sharif has been interested in cooking since she was a young child watching the Food Network with her parents.

“I was a shy child,” said Jocelyn, “and cooking was a way to express myself.”

Now Jocelyn has taken her interest in cooking and applied it to a career path. She is enrolled in Bloomington Area Career Center’s culinary arts program and will further her pursuit of culinary arts and hospitality management at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

“This program has really made me realize what exactly I want to do,” said Jocelyn. “It made me realize I could be a chef and be my own boss.”

High school students across the state are more prepared to attain postsecondary degrees and credentials because of career pathways programs like those in Bloomington. Career pathways and aligning the education system were among the topics at the 5th Annual Illinois 60 by 25 Network Conference, which took place February 6-7 in Bloomington. More than 200 attendees representing all corners of Illinois came together for two days of learning, resource sharing and inspiration. The Illinois P-20 Council’s 60 by 25 goal is to ensure 60% of Illinois adults have a postsecondary degree or credential by the year 2025 (Illinois currently stands at 50.1%). This year’s conference’s theme was Scaling for Impact, with an eye toward expanding cross-sector collaborations and furthering innovation in local communities. Conference speakers emphasized equity and providing educational opportunities that will lead to ongoing success in careers and life for all students.

“Our system is designed for the comfort and complacency of adults,” said Dr. Tony Smith, State Superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education. “We are not designed for unique supports for all kids.”

The 60 by 25 Network, formed in 2013, supports communities to increase meaningful and equitable postsecondary attainment and civic engagement. Advance Illinois, Education Systems Center at Northern Illinois University and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission are the network organizers. Thirteen Leadership Communities across the state have developed collective impact strategies that bring together early childhood, K-12, higher education and business and community organizations.

“I’m hopeful because the policy windows are open and Illinois has a structure to strengthen connective tissue between policy and implementation,” said Jason Quiara, Senior Program Officer for the Education and Economic Mobility Program for the Joyce Foundation, a network funder. “That structure is the Illinois 60 by 25 Network. Other states are looking to this model as an inspiration for their own collaboration and policy implementation.”

Among the high points of the conference was the first-ever Program Data Walk, which featured interactive displays on the impact Leadership Communities are making on student outcomes. The data walk provided a venue for communities to interact while sharing local successes and ideas for the future. Additionally, the Humans of 60 by 25 video made its debut at the conference, featuring Leadership Communities sharing their stories in their own words.

Alex Fralin, Chief of Schools for Madison (Wis.) Metropolitan School District, delivered a keynote address titled “The Equity Imperative: Without an Equity Lens, Our Capacity to Scale is Always Limited.” Additional speakers at the conference included Dr. Al Bowman, Executive Director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Dr. Karen Hunter Anderson, Executive Director of the Illinois Community College Board, Julie Koenke of ConnectEd California, Dr. Amy Loyd of Jobs for the Future, Dr. Landon Mascareñaz of A Plus Colorado and Achieve Inc. and Jeffrey T.D. Wallace of LeadersUp.

“The public good requires extraordinary schools,” added Superintendent Smith. “Your leadership will be what makes the difference.”

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