RIMS AVID Roundtable

Catalina Cifuentes Part 2 - Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for the Riverside County Office of Education.

April 07, 2022 Kelly Hogan-Flowers and Stephanie Downey Season 1 Episode 3
RIMS AVID Roundtable
Catalina Cifuentes Part 2 - Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for the Riverside County Office of Education.
Show Notes Transcript

During our last episode, we had a fantastic conversation with Catalina Cifuentes, the Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for Riverside County Office of Education. This episode is part two, as we continue our conversation with Catalina. 

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Music by ItsWatR from Pixabay - Cali


Catalina  00:00

It's shown me that these things are possible that I'm not dreaming that I do feel we RIMS can be the best region in the state of California, in the nation.


Stephanie  00:15

Hey AVID family this is Stephanie Downey and I'm Kelly Hogan-Flowers from RIMS AVID and you're listening to the RIMS AVID Roundtable, the podcast where we discuss all things AVID. Twice each month on this podcast, we'll get together with a special guest to talk about their AVID journey. They will tell you their story and explain what makes them an AVID rock star. They will share their ideas, best practices and strategies that they learned along the way.


Kelli  00:39

During our last episode, we had a fantastic conversation with Catalina Cifuentes, the Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for Riverside County Office of Education. This episode is part two, as we continue our conversation with Catalina. 


Kelli  07:44

If you want to finish this sentence, because of AVID


Catalina  07:53

Wow, that was, how much time do we have?


Kelli  07:57

As much time as you want? I know, that's a huge one.


Catalina  08:00

Um, I would say because of AVID, I found like I said, my purpose early on my calling my passion. And I feel like nothing is nothing is impossible, like when it comes to our students. So I keep pushing, and I get little wins. And sometimes it's hard. It's so hard. It's so hard this work. Because sometimes it's not always about students, you know, sometimes it's I deal with groups, and it's, like, that's a lot of ego right here. Right? That's a that's a lot of ego of, of, of why we can't do this for a student or why we can't expand the AVID program or why we can't make this a requirement. Right. So I win I win some I get back on I get back back, you know, back on it or I lose some but I think it's shown me that these things are possible that I'm not dreaming that I do feel we RIMS can be the best region in the state of California and the nation. And I think too many opportunities you know when um Riverside County got the highest graduation rate you know, in 2019 and we didn't go after graduation right we went after post secondary we did AVID hello that's what we have it everyone's like what's going on in Riverside, okay, news update,  it's AVID okay, that's all we did was take those same strategies and that stream opportunity provided systemic college application workshops during the school day provided FAFSA workshops during the school day provided a college and career planning during the school day, built a system within the day for students just like AVID does and so nothing you know, mind you nothing even close to the impact and the level of commitment AVID is our students but just even just a little bit just to show you just a little bit of AVID school wide and what it did for for for that for Riverside County. So in 2019 when this happen, and then we beat Orange County, which is like wow, you pay me huge. I said okay, I I told you, our kids are just as smart, just as bright, just as capable of the students and Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach and San Diego. And they just needed the opportunity. And that's what we gave them. Our, you know, our our leaders have continued to just provide those opportunities. And so I think when I think what is because of AVID AVID has shown me that I do still believe I'm affirm still strong believer in public education, and what we can do, and I, we've been challenged more than ever these past few years. But I know we can be the the transformative piece in our region and our state. We're, we have the, we have the ability to do that. And I think that's what AVID has shown me. And it we took what I learned as a student and a class, to then doing AVID myself to then you know, working on the strategies, those same strategies across across the school sight to now across the county, and look at the byproducts. And it's more than just post secondary, lower students getting in trouble. highest graduation rate, more high school diplomas, all these byproducts will transform a community. And I think there's anyone listening, that's not in education. This affects you, right? This affects communities, if we let students are going to college, or they don't have a plan, then what are they doing? They're getting in trouble. I feel more than ever, as our college enrollment decline these last two years, I'm worried I'm worried about them, what are they doing if they're not in a program or a trade score or certification process, and I think we have to come together to do that. And, and like you said, build that AVID family outside of education. So they understand that impact that will happen if we don't continue to push and have high expectations. So I think, because of AVID personally, that's what it's done for me. But I think it's also opened up so many opportunities we have, I know you're going to have on this on the show up famous alumni, we have students, I have students, some of my former students are dentists, and doctors and lawyers. And it's like, wow, like to see where they've come from. I have one particular student that I worked with, you know, he's now a fighter pilot, you know, in the Navy, and he's fighting these jets. And I call him a little top gun. You would have saw when I met him, yeah, you would have not thought of you know, of that. But um, I think that's what it's done. It's transformed lives in. It's more than just a college going right. And we can't lose sight of that.


Stephanie  12:31

All right, so to wrap it up, we're going to have you give our listeners your best piece of advice. For AVID, so to be successful and AVID, you need to do this one thing, like, what's the one thing they need to do?


Catalina  12:44

Wow. And then you're gonna think human, you know, of course, relationships and building relationships with your students. Definitely. But I think understanding the the data, the piece of data that I would say, if there's one thing I could advise, we can tell students, we love them, we can, you know, give them you know, attention go above and beyond for them. But we're not doing any favors for them for them by feeling sorry for them, we have to understand what our data is, what our baseline, where are they at academically? Were they after A-G? What's their post secondary plan, we have to know our students and establish baseline data for their future. You know, when you think of, you know, businesses, right, if they don't get numbers, they don't continue in business. Right. And I think too often in education, we've we've moving away from that return on investment, because I know there's that one story, that student we saved his life, and we've connected, but I think now more than ever, we have to not that it's a it's a you know, what we do for students isn't just a business. But I think showing our showing what we do for students showcasing that data piece is so important. And so, you know, one of the things I do as an AVID coordinator is just that, you know, track my baseline data, how many are on track for graduation, on track for A through G completion on track for their Cal Grant GPA, post secondary plan, I knew by grade level where they were at average GPA, all those pieces, because then that helped me identify what I needed to work on what I needed to spend more time on what I needed to we're good here, I need to focus more on this. It helped me identify the gaps. If I didn't look at my data, I didn't even realize that I have way more females than males in my AVID program right. And I know that's something we're working on as a RIMS team. I didn't realize that my representation of my program didn't represent the school that I served or the community in terms of enrollment in the program. I needed to look diversifying into to look for other students. So I think don't don't be afraid of the data piece. I think the data will empower you to help you make better informed decisions and make student driven decisions and not on what someone told you or what you're feeling right. And so I think there's one piece of advice, spend the time to understand your baseline data for your AVID program and what your goals are.


Stephanie  15:04

That's great. Thank you. Thank you, Catalina for joining us today and answering all these questions so beautifully.


Catalina  15:09

Oh, thank you. No, thank you for having me.


Kelli  15:12

And I do want to add, though, Stephanie said that was the last one. But I do have one more that I want to ask one more, one more, just because I can't let you leave without asking. And when, when we talk, we're going to be talking to Mrs. Schneider in the future. And I know when we talk about her AVID legacy, I know that she will mention you because you're definitely part of her legacy.


Catalina  15:32

I'll be crying. And I see her I lose it.


Kelli  15:35

But what is your AVID legacy?


Catalina  15:39

God, um, you know what I would say? You know, we joke around, there's actually something I'm working on right now. And I like to call it a pilot because pilot gives you the past to, it's just a pilot. We haven't we haven't finalized it yet. You know, that's been one way I've been able to move things across the system, like I said, you know, sometimes isn't always about students, right? There's different reasons why things happen in education. I would say my, I would say my legacy God with I mean, I've helped so many students work with so many students and families. But I hope it's that things are possible, right? That there's nothing that there's nothing that can't be done if it's good for students, right. And so I the coordinators, and the teachers listening, don't give up, right? Because if I would have taken that advice, you know, almost 20 years ago, and as the time Mrs. Schneider, was the was the coordinator for was the program manager for the AVID program, or was about to become when they did that FASFA piece. And I thought, Oh, my God, this is going to go away in two years. What are we going to do? Like all these amazing students that I met at my high school? And I we can't we have to continue. That became like my mission, this has to be something required and not required to provide that equity. It's legislation, equity and legislation. Right? Everyone says, like I said, we're an equity champion, and show me show me and your actions I will champion you are. So I made that commitment there was going to we're going to find a way to do it. Right. And so we were the first. You know, we first to to unleash faster completion data on a dashboard. And that was super ongoing weekly. That was public data that didn't come out and everyone, I took a lot of hits for that people never know, people were upset with me, and they don't understand. Oh, yeah. Kelli I Oh, yeah, I could tell you stories that can be another podcast, all the all the other attitudes are people upset. But I think there were a fearful of, you know, being blamed or being shamed. And I said, No, we need to showcase the fact that you have you work in a community that over 10% of your students can submit either application because they don't qualify. They just came here from another country. Like we need to use this data to advocate what needs to happen and not use it as an I got you or or blame game that wasn't the point of unleashing the FASFA completion data across the county, where you look at that piece. And then that led to state state attention. Right. And that led to me going on to California Student Aid Commission. And that was new for me. And the first thing question I asked when, you know, they discussed this, I said, I don't want to be on a committee to be a committee. If we can't do big things, then I'm too busy. I got kids that need me here in my county. Right. And so being having the honor to be appointed by you know, Governor Newsom, I'm not only for student aid Commission, I've been appointed by two governors, but then and to serve, to serve the administration and serve what he truly has probably made some of the greatest investments in education these last few years in California has ever seen. To adapt that opportunity showed me okay, this can be done right. And I'll never forget, I met with somebody from the California Department of Education before I actually went to go there. And I mentioned I said, Hey, I've been working on this, what do you think in Louisiana at the time had made FASFA requirement, says Catalina, it'll never happen. It's local control. Local control, California has gone to forward with local control. That's a mandate. And if it's an unfunded mandate, it for sure won't happen, right. And so I could have given up and I said, No we're going to keep pushing, we're going to keep pushing because I need to understand just FASFA alone last year, we left $200 million alone just in community college students and Pell Grant. That's federal money that could have come they're in school. They're paying for it when they could have gotten for free and got Pell money to live. And so we're talking that's it's a fiscal impact. So I depend on the audience is how I would spin it. So if it was, you know, business leaders or fiscal, I talked about the fiscal impact if it was community members and and you want to bring those resources back to your community, you know, talk show that so if I would have listened to, you know, this won't happen, this can't happen. This can't then I don't think we would have had the amazing leadership that we've had locally here in San Bernardino County, our assembly woman that pushed this bill and push this work forward on why we need to do it and why California stands here we are, we give funding to our dreamers and one of the few states that do that. And so I think that's if anything, that's what I'd love to be is, you know, you don't give up if you have this dream of something that can be for students. If it's it, you know, you can't lose sight as long, it's what's best for students, and you keep pushing that it takes a long time, it did write that I take a lot of personally, you know, professionally hits and probably people and I won't hire her. She's too pushy. You know what, I don't want to work for people who don't believe in, in what's best for students, because believe her I'm not here for promotion, and I'm not here to run for office. So there's no, there's no, you can't come at me and say, That's why she's doing it. Nope, I've turned down all those things, I came back to my county because I that's not what what matters to me. So I feel don't give up. And it could be something, it could be something at a school site that you know, you're trying to expand your AVID sections, or if you need help with showing that justification. Sometimes people are driven by different reasons. Like I said, sometimes it's fiscal, this makes money, this makes sense for money. This makes sense to improve our data. This makes sense for different reasons. And you just have to find that way. And I've been fortunate what have you ever asked me not only go from teaching, but now being on these committees and working with legislators and working on policy for California? No, no, I mean, it's funny when I say data, I had to take Algebra Two and Geometry twice. Okay. I know my Ramona High School teachers are listening. They're like, girl she got a D in geometry. Yes, I did. So now I love data, right. So you just you don't know what potential students have and what they can do. So I think that's it just don't give up. And if it's something down to the school site of a change, you're trying to make schoolwide. Don't give up and keep pushing and find a way you just it's timing is everything and taking advantage of those opportunities. I think the the amount of students in California that are going that sometimes college students that are hungry, or that have housing insecurities, over 70%, the Student Aid Commission did a sears survey on college students, and over 70% of them experience housing or food insecurities at one point and in college. So as we get ready for the FASFA the requirement, and we're pushing that, our next project is CalFresh. And looking at simplifying the CalFresh process for college students. It's the as you know, you probably helped students, you know, both of you to get CalFresh application. But if you're going to go to UC Davis, oh, you got to do the application over because you're moving to another county, there's too many barriers in providing food to college students. And so that's it not every college campus in California allows CalFresh for students to be able to use CalFresh. And so the band aid we're doing is, you know, like food pantries, to band aid, don't send my kids to a food pantry. When there's ability, there's there I'm not saying I'm not grateful for those, those pieces, but we can do better. So when you look at the system, it's it's it's the layers of red tape that have been for protection, right? It wasn't built for community college students it was It wasn't necessarily built for, not community college, sorry, college students. But it's things that we can we created things that we can fix. And so that's like, my next challenge is I'm going after CalFresh. They just a Student Aid Commission, we just did a massive workgroup, we brought all the stakeholders together to talk about this problem. And it was amazing how many people did not realize the what happens to our students in food insecurities in college. And I shared with them, and we can say this, in RIMS, you know, majority of our students have been getting free reduced lunch since they were in kindergarten, and then they graduate. And I can assure you very few have life changing circumstances that happened over the summer. They still need the food. We were feeding them breakfast, lunch and dinner to be successful. And I think we're looking at those types of ideas on if if we, we've been doing this for them, what's three or four more years to get them to degree, I believe me, I've paid back the state taxes that have been invested in me and a Cal Grant. Any other financial aid received all of us here at this table? Right, have paid back tenfold that money back to the state of California, it is an invest. It's an investment to us to do this for our students. So I'm going back to I know it was a long answer, but just wanted to give ideas of Don't Don't dream. Don't dream small. Don't think your idea is it's it's dead on arrival. Keep pushing, keep going. And don't listen to that. And it's not it's not, it's not easy, but you know, I've accepted it. Michael Kelly's always telling me that's just who you are, you're always gonna bring that. That is you'd like to agitate and you'd like to move things and I'm like, I know. But sometimes it gets hard. It takes a toll on you when people are, you know, just negative and, but it's like if you took the time to hear me and understand what I'm trying what we're trying to do. Right I'm fortunate I have an amazing team or college readiness team in our county office of education and my county superintendent. Dr. Edwin Gomez, they get that they get that innovation right now is what we need in this RIMS region, you know, both county superintendents by continuing this commitment to RIMS AVID I don't think we realize and we say enough how fortunate we are for superintendent Alejandra and Superintendent Gomez, kind of superintendents, because most of them have moved away from this. And I think those of you listening we're so fortunate you have no idea you have two county superintendents, that believe in you and that continue to invest in you. So I always tell students, you know, your actions are so loud I don't hear what you're saying. Their actions to continue this investment tells you that they believe in you. Definitely.


Stephanie  25:39

Thank you. So that's it for this episode of the RIMS AVID Roundtable. I'm Stephanie. And I'm Kelly. If you have questions, feedback on today's episode or an idea for a future show, please tweet us @rimsavid or email rimsavid@sbcss.net we'd love to hear from you. And be sure to check out our website rimsavid.org for all the latest news and events.


Kelli  26:02

Thanks Catalina for spending the morning with us and sharing your amazing and inspiring story. And thank you for always being that ram pushing forward not taking no for an answer. But most of all, thank you for your example.


Catalina  26:17

Thank you. Thank you for having me. And one day at a time RIMS family and we got this you were made for this. This is where you're supposed to be.


Kelli  26:24

Thank you all for listening. Don't forget to follow us on your favorite podcast app so you don't miss a single episode. Join us again next time for more RIMS AVID roundtable we'll save you a seat.