county boards
Santa Cruz Career Advancement Charter School offers youth a second chance at education
In 2017, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education established the Career Advancement Charter, a countywide dependent charter, to serve young adults ages 18 to 24 who had not graduated from high school. Now beginning its third year, the charter school dedicates itself to helping students earn high school diplomas, industry certifications and make successful transitions to community college and family-sustaining employment.

One guiding principle of the Santa Cruz County Career Advancement Charter School is to help remove individual and systemic barriers that have historically prevented students from succeeding in our educational system. The CAC has multiple locations across Santa Cruz County that offer a range of services including independent study, in-class instruction for high school completion, Career and Technical Education classes, English as a second language, therapeutic support and academic guidance. Services are offered throughout the day to accommodate student schedules, which often revolve around each student’s professional and family responsibilities.

The CAC also provides services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated young adults, which is made possible through a partnership between the Santa Cruz COE, the Sheriff’s Corrections Department and the Probation Department. This partnership allows educators to engage with students whether they are incarcerated, on probation or in the community. Students who are currently in custody have access to an Independent Study High School Diploma completion program. They also have access to four CTE courses: constructional technologies, culinary arts, technology and agriculture. For those who are not in custody, the majority of our recruitment is a result of outreach in the community, referrals from high school counselors and word of mouth from current and former students.

Once students exit the jail facility, they are referred to the CAC locations in the community to maintain continuity in their educational experience. This handoff is essential to help students continue their educational development and minimize the likelihood of recidivism.

Since its creation, the program has served 380 students, graduated 149, registered 25 in community college and placed 82 in the workforce. In 2019 alone, 43 students who were incarcerated received their high school diploma. The program offers young adults a second chance at educational and career success within a safe and engaging learning environment.