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Message from Our President and CEO

Paul J. Luna

As I traveled through the states of Arizona and Florida in 2015 engaging with our partners, getting to know the people impacted by our work, and reflecting on our Foundation’s vision and commitment, it was exhilarating to see our work personified in the faces of thousands of inspired students, educators, parents and other engaged individuals in the communities we serve.

By refining our community impact approach, helping to frame the education discussion, sharing our learnings and continuing to be an actively engaged partner, Helios Education Foundation is helping reform our education systems for the better while increasing the academic preparedness of all students across the education continuum.

In 2015, we crystalized our approach to community impact by shaping and defining our key strategies into four areas: strategic investing, building and reforming systems, public and political will building and collaborating and convening.

As the organization reached its 10th anniversary, we celebrated our partnerships with close to $170 million invested in Arizona and Florida across programs and initiatives focused on Early Grade Success, College and Career Readiness and Postsecondary Completion. Last year alone, we provided close to $12 million in strategic investments and innovative partnerships in both states.

Last year alone, we provided close to $12 million in strategic investments and innovative partnerships in both states.

Ready Now Yuma is a partnership between Yuma Union High School District and Helios Education Foundation to ensure every student in the District graduates from high school prepared for the future. Through this partnership, all 11,000 students in the District’s six high schools are being challenged, supported and prepared on the pathway toward college and career success.

We framed the education discussion in both Arizona and Florida with an all-encompassing notion of equity in education. We believe that every student, regardless of zip code, deserves a high-quality education and that all education reform must begin from that starting point.

The changing demographics in Arizona led us to continue the call for broad-based support around the need to close the academic achievement gap in Arizona, especially between Latino students and their White peers. In the last 35 years, Arizona’s population has grown from less than three million to nearly seven million. While Latinos accounted for 16 percent of the state’s population in 1980, in 2014, they comprised approximately 31 percent of the population.2

With Latinos representing the largest percentage of students in Arizona’s K-12 public schools3, the widening achievement gap is destined to have dire consequences on our state’s future if we don’t act now. Through public and political will-building efforts and through collaborating and convening, we are working to help ensure that every student is prepared to succeed in college and a career.

Our work in Florida is focused on closing the achievement gap between first-generation, low-income and minority students who currently trail their White and more affluent peers in academic performance and degree completion. Through our Florida Metropolitan Education Initiative – focusing on the Miami, Orlando and Tampa metropolitan areas – Helios has set out to improve quality, access, and achievement across the P-16 education continuum, ultimately leading to more first-generation, low-income, and minority students attaining a postsecondary degree.

We also expanded our internal capacity with a focus on policy, research and evaluation, helping us share our learnings through education and policy briefs and better understand the impact of our initiatives. Our early evaluation of Ready Now Yuma showed that this initiative is not only helping create a college-going culture across the Yuma Union High School District, it is also contributing to an increase in the number of students taking advanced placement courses; creating better opportunities for teachers to engage in professional learning communities and improve instruction; and preparing all of the district’s 11,000 students, regardless of past academic performance or future aspirations, for postsecondary education success.4

While Arizona Latinos accounted for 16 percent of the state’s population in 1980, in 2014, they comprised approximately 31 percent of the population.

We evaluated our ACT initiative and reflected on the fact that over 100,000 students across 14 Arizona school districts took the ACT at no cost as a result of our partnership. This effort becomes even more meaningful when we realize that a score of 26 or higher is a strong indicator of student readiness for college. Making this exam available at no cost helped students, their families, educators and school districts determine college readiness and improve their collective efforts to put students on a path toward accessing and completing some form of postsecondary education.

I am encouraged by our strategic partnership with and investment in the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities, consisting of Florida International University, the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida. These universities serve over 162,000 students combined, representing 47 percent of all students in the state university system and the majority of first-generation, minority and underrepresented students in the state.5

Through this partnership, these universities are sharing their resources, pooling their ideas and identifying action plans that will lead to increased student graduation rates through targeted student supports, predictive analytics, the identification of high-tech pathways and ensuring career readiness. This effort represents a new way of approaching barriers to college completion.

Our work and the work of our partners impacts hundreds of thousands of individuals each year.

Ready Now Yuma

As I reflect on the Foundation’s accomplishments throughout the 2015 fiscal year, I am reminded of the people who represent the education reform we seek. From the toddler surrounded by literacy-rich environments to the college senior who persisted thanks to comprehensive supports, our work and the work of our partners impacts hundreds of thousands of individuals each year. That realization is aligned with our vision that every individual in Arizona and Florida has the opportunity to attend and is prepared to succeed in postsecondary education.