GUEST OPINION: Courting colleges

By Stephen Mayer
   My office is across the hall from the guidance department at Robbinsville High School, which means that bright yellow stars noting college acceptances begin to appear on the wall in late November through April. When high school seniors are able to post their star, they are officially ending a period of high stress that begins as early as spring of their junior year. This stress ties into the college application, selection, and decision process and marks a rite of passage for Robbinsville students.
   College admissions are a competitive and complicated process as students around the country compete for acceptance at the best colleges and universities. In Robbinsville, Ms. Laurie Rotondo takes the lead in guiding students and parents in the process. In her presentation to the Board of Education earlier this fall, Ms. Rotondo described the anxiety that is caused by the process. “We understand that the college application/acceptance process can be a great source of stress for parents and students, so we work to alleviate that stress by providing a comprehensive system of support,” Ms. Rotondo said. This system of support includes individual college counseling, workshops on the application process, financial aid lessons, essay review and feedback, and an interface with Naviance, an electronic and personalized assistive database.
   Students begin to visit schools during their junior year and start drafting application essays in the summer before their senior year. Despite the relative ease of using the Common Application for many schools, working to personalize thoughts in an essay and position co- and extra- curricular experiences in just the right way is an arduous process. Ms. Rotondo and her colleagues, Ms. Lindsay Richard and Ms. Amy Wirth-Nolan help students through the process by narrowing search options and providing individualized support. For this year’s seniors, this team has processed 1,250 applications, offered free SAT and ACT practice tests, conducted mock interviews, and written countless letters of reference. In addition, RHS counselors meet with admission officers from around the country to promote the successes of Robbinsville students. And all of this is proving to be a winning combination.
   In 2011, 98 percent of Robbinsville graduates enrolled in a college or university upon graduation. In addition, Robbinsville students are gaining acceptance at the most competitive colleges and universities in the country. Indeed, Robbinsville is quickly gaining a good name. With our first graduating class (Class of 2008) ready to graduate from college this spring, we will be able to secure Clearinghouse information about how our graduates fare once they enter the world of higher education, which will help us reflect on our program experiences. Anecdotally, our alumni describe themselves as well prepared for the rigors they face at the college level and appear to be making good strides in the most challenging academic environments. Two of our recent graduates are already published in scientific and scholarly journals!
   The holiday season marks a time of rest, reflection, and renewal for many. For our seniors, it marks the beginning of the much anticipated notification season as well. I am proud of the successes we have realized as a young K- 12 school district and am confident that we will continue to graduate college-ready citizens who are eager, willing, and able to contribute to their world. Ensuring that our graduates are competitive requires a comprehensive commitment from before kindergarten through senior year. I am proud that our faculty and staff are committed to this work as they routinely refine and reinvent the work that occurs in our classrooms throughout the district.
   As 2012 approaches, I look forward to continuing our effort to define Robbinsville Schools in ways that promote academic excellence, opportunity, and promise.
Steven Mayer is the superintendent of the Robbinsville School District.