Last month, Polk State College held their first College and Career Readiness Summit, an event which brought together local business partners, educators, students, parents and other community members for a panel discussion on college and career readiness efforts taking shape in Polk County.

Made possible through the Curriculum Alignment Project of Polk (CAPP), a partnership between Polk State College and the Polk County School District, the morning program featured remarks from Polk State College president Dr. Eileen Holden and Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart.

Dr. Eileen Holden, President of Polk State College, delivered opening remarks emphasizing the need to begin the college and career preparation process as early as possible, “We can’t start talking about it at the ninth-grade level. It needs to start at the pre-K and elementary-school level.”

And while this summit highlighted some of the new efforts underway to improve college and career readiness, Commissioner Stewart pointed out that there is a lot of momentum to build on at the state level. In 2014, more than 57% of Florida’s high school graduates took an Advanced Placement (AP) test with 30% earning AP credit, which was 2nd and 3rd best in the United States respectively.

The panel discussion was an effort to enhance connectivity between community members who each have their own stake in improving college access, completion and career readiness. In a panel discussion later in the summit, local students, business leaders, parents and community leaders discussed the importance and challenges to improving student outcomes. The panel collectively agreed merely passing a standardized test or getting a college acceptance is not enough to ensure college and career readiness and emphasized critical thinking, problem solving and effective communication as necessary to ensure success in both college and career.

Merissa Green, a local community leader, emphasized the need to connect what is learned in the classroom to the real world. One solution she offered was to get more working professionals involved on campus as mentors and role models for students. Green also mentioned additional issues that may impact a less fortunate students’ performance and ability to focus on school such as where they are going to live, eat and sleep from day to day.

Concluding the summit was an overview of broader efforts taking place in the region to improve college and career readiness with the intention to boost the number of Polk County residents with a high-quality college degree or credential by Debbie Prescott, executive director of the local Florida Prosperity Partnership. In discussing the need for targeted goals to boost degree attainment rates, Prescott stressed the importance and benefits of a cross-sector, collaborative approach.

The event drew an impressive cross-section of local leaders and community members to discuss the issues and potential solutions for improving student outcomes, including Polk State College, Polk County Public Schools, the School Board of Polk County, the Florida Department of Education, Bay News 9, Florida Prosperity Partnership, the City of Auburndale, the Polk Education Foundation, CareerSource Polk and State Farm Insurance among others. For more information on the on-going efforts taking place in Polk County to improve college and career readiness, contact Debbie Prescott, Executive Director of the Florida Prosperity Partnership at


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