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Originally published Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 4:01 PM

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Op-ed: Band together to improve education in Washington state

The greatest breakthroughs in education will happen when we join hands instead of pointing fingers, according to guest columnists

Special to The Times

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THE times demand we update our region’s human-capital infrastructure, much like we are doing with roads, rail and bridges. In education, we need to produce different results for today’s children to be successful and competitive in the global economy, so new structures and strategies are needed.

Research highlights the importance of early education, while at the other end of the continuum, the job market is demanding ever-higher rates of postsecondary credentials. The old system was never organized to start early enough with young children, nor has it been re-engineered to deliver enough college-and-career-ready high-school graduates.

The rigid notion of when education starts and stops needs to go.

It’s time to work across organizational and jurisdictional boundaries. We have to improve our own work as school districts while at the same time joining more with other stakeholders who can help raise achievement levels.

As education leaders, we are stepping up to address these challenges and build a much-higher-achieving region, which is why we work together as part of the Road Map Project (www.roadmapproject.org). We are all aiming to hit the project’s 2020 goal, which is to double the number of students in South King County and South Seattle on track to graduate from college or earn a career credential, and to close achievement gaps.

Now we’re turning our attention to the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant. For the first time, districts are allowed to compete. Despite busy back-to-school schedules and a very tight Oct. 30 deadline, we have decided to race as a consortium of seven districts: Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, Seattle and Tukwila. As part of the process, school boards and bargaining groups will need to approve, and mayors and state officials will also weigh in.

We will apply for up to $40 million and you can be sure we will compete hard.

Too often, great work often goes on in isolation. We are working to find better ways to spread great practices and create a more permeable system of learning by relying on stronger engagement with parents, communities, businesses and support service organizations, and by making better use of online technology.

Our plan will propose investments so more kids can start strong and stay strong. The grant application will emphasize college and career readiness and personalized instruction. Parent involvement will be critical.

We will also double down on improving science, technology, engineering and math, often called STEM, and make sure kids and families see the enormous career opportunities in our own backyard for young people with STEM skills. Each proposed investment will be viewed as a regional project, and close examination of data will be required.

An example of our region’s incredible, collective success in the past two years is getting 93 percent of low-income students signed up for the state’s College Bound Scholarship. Another example is the major honor the region received in July from the National Civic League for our plan to improve third-grade reading by working collaboratively with cities, doctors, early-learning providers, local libraries, nonprofits and schools.

The greatest breakthroughs emerge when we work together. The Road Map districts have forged a powerful partnership in order to unleash our collective potential. No one organization can dramatically raise educational attainment in our region acting alone. We believe in joining hands — not pointing fingers. Everyone has to step up, get involved and make a difference in our region.

Mary Alice Heuschel, left, is superintendent of the Renton School District. Kip Herren is superintendent of the Auburn School District.

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