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Doing right by our kids

By Meital Caplan
March 30, 2017

Jeff Simon serves as Assistant Principal of John Dewey High School and has worked in education for 32 years. Under his leadership, with the support of the school’s Master Principal Connie Hamilton, the school launched two OneGoal cohorts in 2016, led by Program Director Dave Personette, and plans to add two new cohorts in the 2017-18 school year.

John Dewey High School launched two OneGoal cohorts in the 2016-17 school year.

I’ve always viewed education as critical, but the importance of a college degree for me became obvious during the economic downturn in 2008, when all of a sudden I was seeing kids coming to school crying because their parents, one or both, lost their jobs and couldn’t find work. The parents had nothing else they could fall back on. It was then that I realized that you always have to have a backup plan, and I think having a college education is probably the best backup plan for almost everything there is.

Fast forward to 2016, our Master Principal, Ms. Hamilton, learned about OneGoal at a superintendent’s meeting and knew it would be an excellent program for the Dewey students. So, she assigned me to bring the program to the school. When I learned about OneGoal and spoke to its staff, I immediately found that the program matched everything I believe in.

A lot of kids can do really well in college but unfortunately they’re not given those opportunities. And it’s not fair.

Many students don’t have the same opportunities as the wealthy kids to pay for courses that prepare them for the SAT. Many of them don’t have parents who went to college who could easily guide them through the process. And even when students graduate from high school and get into college, I see too many kids entering college not ready for the realities that they’re about to encounter. You don’t just take the kid and drop them off on the college door and say “hey, fly now.” With OneGoal we’re able to actually prepare kids for college—and keep up with them while they’re in college—to really level the playing field for everybody.

Once I realized how important it would be to have a great teacher lead the OneGoal class, I absolutely knew that Dave Personette was the perfect person. Mr. Personette has such great relationships with kids. He recognizes that the kids in his classroom need more than just passing grades in their classes: they need to be well-rounded individuals.

OneGoal PD Dave Personette leads two daily OneGoal classes, providing individualized support for each Fellow.

Dave is always positive; he is always preaching to the kids that they can succeed. You know, saying “you can do this,” “you can achieve this,” “don’t worry, I’ll work with you if you have difficulty.”

What does going the extra mile look like? Mr. Personette gifted every OneGoal student a hoodie reflecting their unique nickname & favorite quote relating to success.

He embodies everything that I thought would make this program excel here and he really has done great. Of course, when you’re good everyone knows you’re good so I had to convince the other departments that wanted him as a teacher that his best place was teaching OneGoal. They saw that he could either reach a couple of classrooms by remaining a subject-specific teacher, or he could impact the entire school by teaching these 50 kids and becoming a staple in the college office.

He actually now has his own office in the college office. He’s in there working directly with our other college advisors and serving his OneGoal students. What’s beautiful is that he’s also able to help students that aren’t in OneGoal but have questions on college, the whole process and so on.

Since starting OneGoal I’ve seen an absolutely major change in the attitude of the OneGoal kids. That it’s not “maybe I’m going to college.” It’s “I’m going to college, the school is going to work with me to get me the answers to my questions, and it’s going to help me get the money to get to college.” I believe every one of those kids has bought into that, which is tremendous. 

We’re adding two more cohorts next year. That’s not a maybe, that’s a definite. It was really a simple choice. Basically we saw how successful the program was, and we think for the amount that it’s costing us, we’re getting a lot of bang for that buck. And like I said, the most important thing a school could do is do right by its children and help them have a great future.