RTI uses cookies to offer you the best experience online. By clicking “accept” on this website, you opt in and you agree to the use of cookies. If you would like to know more about how RTI uses cookies and how to manage them please view our Privacy Policy here. You can “opt out” or change your mind by visiting: http://optout.aboutads.info/. Click “accept” to agree.


Strengthening Early College High Schools

The 2021 Early College Summit Connects Educators and School Leaders

The pandemic has had an impact on people from all walks of life, especially educators. One of the many challenges of the pandemic was an increased sense of professional isolation felt by teachers and school leaders. The 2021 Early College Summit, held in June, provided a critical opportunity for early college educators to reconnect and work together to best support the students they serve. 

The annual Early College Summit is hosted by the RTI Center for Education Services as an opportunity to convene a wide variety of stakeholders from teachers, counselors, and principals to education researchers and policymakers to network and share ideas with peers. A large number of summit participants are members of the Early College Network (ECN), which is also facilitated by RTI. The ECN builds relationships among early college educators who work to expand access to college for first generation college goers and other students from demographics traditionally underrepresented in higher education. 

Through a combination of high expectations, rigorous coursework, and strong student supports, early colleges prepare students for college and allow them to earn college credit while in high school. Research has shown that the early college model has been successful in expanding college attainment. While the work early college educators do can be highly rewarding, it is also highly challenging. Having opportunities to network, learn, and problem solve with those in similar roles across schools and districts can be extremely valuable. The Early College Summit and similar events are particularly important, as they are the foundation for building strong relationships and partnerships between network members that lead to growth and change in their respective settings. 

Connect, Learn, and Act

This year’s event brought together college educators from North Carolina, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Texas in a virtual summit setting. To maximize the opportunity for educators to connect in a meaningful way, the summit included a mix of engaging keynotes, interactive breakout sessions, and virtual “Team Time” which provided school teams dedicated time to translate collective learning into practice. The summit also included early college student speakers as a way to provide a voice from the student perspective. 

With the theme Connect. Learn. Act., the aim of the summit was threefold. First, it was an opportunity for educators to reconnect and re-energize each other after a stressful and challenging year. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, teachers and students nationwide have been challenged by the sudden switch to online learning. For educators in particular, the stresses of teaching virtually have meant that not only are they not able to connect in-person with their students, they also have not been able to connect and exchange ideas with their peers. The summit provided an important opportunity to come together for professional collaboration that included both discussion of challenges and celebration of successes in this uniquely challenging time. 

Secondly, the Early College Summit allowed educators the opportunity to learn ways to strengthen their work to support student success in high school and college attainment for underrepresented students, a mission that has become all the more important due to the economic and social impacts of the pandemic. During the summit, educators were able to hear from a variety of speakers from different parts of the country. Dr. Joe Sanfelippo, author of Hacking Leadership, provided a keynote on “Changing the Narrative” where he encouraged schools to celebrate their successes and be creative as they communicate with their community. Maureen Stover, North Carolina’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, focused on the importance of empowering and expanding opportunities for students based on her experience as a science teacher at Cumberland International Early College High School. Student speakers shared about the life-changing experiences their schools have provided and how teachers and school leaders have made a difference in their lives. These speakers, along with a variety of concurrent learning sessions led by practitioners and researchers, helped summit attendees inform their thinking about how to strengthen the important work they do with students in their schools. 

Finally, the summit provided “Team Time” to allow school and district teams space each day to reflect together and plan how to act on learning to improve practice. This time is provided at the summit each year so that teams can focus on sharing ideas that can be useful in addressing school priorities. This can also be a time for teams to revisit the Next Generation Early College Framework as a way to think about continuous improvement in terms of instruction, student supports, and other schoolwide systems. 

Turning Research Into Practice

RTI recognizes the critical role professional networks play in creating opportunities for educators to share experience and learn about research to inform practice and improve outcomes for students. Through the Early College Summit and the Early College Network, RTI works to build connections among attendees and network members to facilitate learning and informed practice beyond individual events. While this is important work in any year, the pandemic has brought unique challenges that have shown how critical networks can be, both personally and professionally. The pandemic has also amplified economic and educational disparities that show how early college high schools are more important than ever in expanding access to educational opportunity for students traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

Join the ECN

Visit our website to learn more about the Early College Network and register to become a member.

Learn More