2004: Founded Poway Unified School District
2010: 96 schools in 15 states
10 schools in Riverside County
3 in Palm Springs Unified
2 Riverside Unified
2 Alvord Unified
1 Corona-Norco Unified
1 Hemet Unified
1 Romoland School District
No Excuses University gets elementary students, parents thinking about college
In 2004 Damen Lopez, an elementary school principal in the Poway Unified School District, launched No Excuses University. As a former second- and fourth-grade teacher and principal of the year in his district, he had come to recognize the critical importance of creating an early expectation of college, even among kindergartners.
Two years later, Damen Lopez co-founded TurnAround Schools. His partner in that venture is another Poway principal – his older brother Dan, a former president of the California League of Middle Schools. Together they created TurnAround Schools to be the training ground for No Excuses University.
No Excuses University schools “actively promote a comprehensive model of college readiness to all students the moment they begin elementary school,” said Dan Lopez. “TurnAround Schools was founded upon the following two principles: One, every child has the right to be prepared to attend college. Two, it is the responsibility of adults in the school to develop exceptional systems that make that dream a reality.”
By adults, he’s not just referring to educators. Parent involvement is a key element of the program. But the program’s most identifiable feature is that a No Excuses University school is likely to look as if it’s been decorated for a pep rally. Schools “adopt” colleges and hang college banners prominently around school grounds. Elementary students come to school in college T-shirts and shrill pep chants in unison. They may have guest speakers who are alumni of their chosen college. It’s all designed to foster the expectation that college is just part of the natural progression of their education.
Behind the pep rally atmospherics, there’s a carefully constructed educational protocol. Underpinning the “culture of universal achievement,” the instructional staff of a No Excuses University school has been trained in a drill of collaboration, standards alignment, assessment, data analysis and interventions. The package is designed to lift spirits and performance, even at schools with signature high poverty rates and low test scores.
In May of 2006, the Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE) helped to support the first TurnAround Schools training event. Less than five years later, 96 schools in 15 states have undergone training and joined the No Excuses University network. The program was recently featured in Education Week because it is in the forefront of a movement that’s gathering momentum nationwide – and Riverside County schools enjoy a prominent place in the movement: 10 schools in Riverside County, representing six of our 23 districts, are now No Excuses University schools.
“In our region, the college-going rate has historically lagged behind the national average,” said Riverside County Superintendent of Schools Kenneth M. Young. “It’s important that our youngsters think of college not just as something that’s possible, but as something that’s part of their future. That’s going to create bigger dreams, and better realities.”
TurnAround Schools will be returning to Riverside County this summer to conduct a training institute July 25 and 26 in the desert. To learn more about their program and institute, visit their website at www.turnaroundschools.com.