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Decade of Difference: Humboldt County Office of Education


12.17.2015 Cover

Humboldt County Office of Education


In Humboldt County, the entire community is working together to set students on the right course.

The Decade of Difference is a ten year community initiative designed to increase achievement rates, high school completion rates and continuing education rates for Humboldt County youth.

Program Coordinator Heidi Moore said the idea was hatched in 2006, when representatives from community organizations such as the County Board of Supervisors and Chamber of Commerce, various employers and the Humboldt County Office of Education (HCOE) Deputy Superintendent Jon Sapper came together to figure out how to respond to changing economic conditions. At that time, they drafted a proposal document that later served as the underpinnings of the Decade of Difference Initiative.

The group was concerned that the economic safety net that had existed for generations of workers without a strong educational foundation had disappeared, and the county’s economy was suffering.

The North Coast lumber industry, for example, had provided IdeasAtWork2014-072decent-paying jobs for those who weren’t successful in school, but now almost all the mills are closed. An aging population, a dropout rate of 15 percent and the lure of high incomes in the local marijuana industry hamper the ability of local employers to find willing and prepared employees.

The architects behind the Decade of Difference knew that their proposal to redefine the county’s economic base would require a strong and well connected “backbone agency” with the resources and knowledge to take the lead on the Initiative, Moore said. They believed that HCOE was “perfectly situated” to take on the challenge, and the Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Garry Eagles enthusiastically agreed.

Following the formalization of the proposal to a working framework, the Decade of Difference Initiative received a ten year, $1.5 million commitment from the Headwater’s Fund Board, marking the belief from this local economic development organization that the Initiative would require resources and time to be able to work towards long-term solutions. In addition to the Headwater Fund Board dollars, the Initiative is also supported financially through HCOE and various external grants.

innovate2014finale-218Decade of Difference has several ambitious goals:

100 percent of fourth-grade students will demonstrate grade-level mastery in reading and math.

95 percent of entering high school freshmen will graduate with a high school diploma.

90 percent of high school graduates will continue their education and enroll in a post-secondary educational program.


The Initiative is focusing on six impact areas: early learning; financial literacy; entrepreneurship; career and college planning; community engagement; and professional development.

A workgroup consisting of educators, experts from the field and photointerested community members supports each of the impact areas with action plans and activities. Decade of Difference staff work with participating schools and community agencies to make sure they have the resources and information to carry out the activities, based upon the unique needs of those being served.

“We know these efforts will only be successful if our schools and community members value them and are willing to allocate the time and resources to move them forward,” Moore said.

“Schools have limited resources, and to assume they would be able to develop these supports without our help wasn’t realistic.”

The county is now in year six of the ten year Initiative, and Moore said that the percentage of youth completing A-G requirements has improved. Pre- and post-assessments show that students are significantly more aware of career opportunities in viable industries available within Humboldt County and across the state.

Educators found that state assessment data didn’t give them information early enough to be able to intervene to meet their goal of achieving grade-level mastery in reading and math for all students by the fourth grade, so they created their own instruments.

“Our Core Growth assessment tools and benchmark inventories are now used by all our districts at the kindergarten level,” Moore said, “and we’re now completing the same process for first grade.”

image4To meet their goal of greater college enrollment, HCOE, Humboldt State University and the College of the Redwoods, the area’s community college, are creating a common application for all local scholarships.

“Students are all chasing the same money, and giving them one portal makes it easier” and encourages them to pursue higher education even if they think they can’t afford it, Moore said.

This past March, the partnership between the two colleges and HCOE, known as the Humboldt Post-Secondary Success Collaborative, won a $3 million Award for Innovation in Higher Education from the state of California. “We are most proud of and grateful for the statewide recognition of our K-16 efforts,” said Moore about the award.

They will use the funds to increase the number of college-ready students, create clear pathways for transfer students, help students enter college with a clear financial plan, and reduce the achievement gap for students underrepresented in higher education, according to a Humboldt State University press release.

With its focus on long-term strategies and uniting the community, the Decade of Difference effort aims to contribute to the revitalization of the North Coast long after its end-date.

Moore said the ultimate goal of Decade of Difference is that by 2020 “there is a successful hand-off to schools and community partners,” so the efforts of the Initiative will be seamlessly woven into the educational experiences of students in Humboldt County.

For more information:

The Decade of Difference website features an overview of the initiative, details about the six impact areas, and a variety of resources.

A Milestones and Moments video explains the goals of the program and includes interviews with community members and shows students participating in classroom and community activities.

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