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Orange County boasts a richly diverse population. According to Ed-Data, a partnership of the California Department of Education, EdSource, and the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team/California School Information Services, the largest groups of students in local schools are as follows: 49 percent Latino, 28 percent white, 15.3 percent Asian, two percent Filipino, 1.4 percent African-American and 2.9 percent two or more races.

Our community has many pockets of outstanding schools, but not all students and families are served equally. For example, only 50.4 percent of the county’s more than half-a-million students met the academic standards to apply to a University of California or a California State University in the 2014-2015 academic year.

The outcome is that approximately 250,000 local students are underserved, resulting in reduced access to higher education and other workforce development programs. But how can we, as educators, ensure that each and every student (and their families) have the same educational opportunities?

One solution that is being explored locally is connecting charter schools — public schools open to all students that are granted the ability to operate as a separate entity by a local district, county board of education or by the state of California — and school districts. These collaborations show promise and help facilitate the spread of effective innovations in areas such as STEM education and dual language immersion programs throughout the county. They allow educators and community members to keep the focus on the children rather than other bureaucratic details that can often get in the way of providing the best learning experience possible.

Powerful innovations that develop in schools can spread rapidly through these partnerships. Instead of being siloed in their respective facilities, educators are now empowered and committed to working together in order to improve the educational experience for Orange County students of any socioeconomic status. Communication and information-sharing, regardless of politics or school structure, are key when teaching a new generation of students.

While there are few charter schools in the area, this collaborative approach is the future of public education and something that is beginning to be celebrated. For example, Chapman University’s Attallah College of Educational Studies has created an annual ePrize for Excellent Schools award to recognize district schools and charter schools working together through innovation in support of this new approach. This year, Anaheim Union School District, El Sol Arts and Science Academy, and Manuel Esqueda School in Santa Ana Unified School District, were recognized as the inaugural winning partnership.

Our region is poised to continue to attract new businesses to the area, bringing new families with children eager to learn. A strong county-wide educational system remains an important issue with local stakeholders and is crucial for continued economic growth. We can easily become a model community for the development of 21st century skills with deep bilingual and bicultural assets that Chapman University and others will continue to spotlight.

The key to this success is the continued support of excellent districts and charter schools engaged in collaboration and forward thinking educational practices. Cooperation and innovation are the hallmarks of our community — the focus remains on providing the same opportunities for the best and brightest local youth at all income levels. Our region’s future is in their hands.