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Meet the Alliance Member: Paula Palmer

Paula Palmer Member Alliance Picture

By Joni Wackwitz
August 17, 2017

Paula Palmer, a member of our Midwest Career Readiness Research Alliance (MCRRA), is the director of career and college success at the Minnesota Department of Education. In this role, Palmer oversees high school initiatives, career technical education, alternative learning, online learning, and adult education. She also directs the development, implementation, and evaluation of strategic state initiatives to ensure Minnesota's high school students graduate ready for college and a career.

Palmer's charge has taken on a growing urgency in Minnesota, where it's estimated that more than half of all jobs will require a postsecondary credential or degree by 2018. To help prepare students to take their place in the state's workforce, Minnesota passed the World's Best Workforce initiative in 2013. This initiative focuses on the entire education pathway, from kindergarten to high school graduation and beyond. "I believe that career readiness starts Day 1, the day a child begins school," says Palmer.

She notes that implementing the initiative has raised questions for the department concerning what college and career readiness really means. "In looking at districts' [World's Best Workforce] plans, we've observed that the career and college readiness goals, strategies, and indicators are often limited and not comprehensive of postsecondary education and career readiness, nor woven throughout K–12." Palmer's division is working to address these concerns and provide districts with more guidance.

In line with these efforts, her division also is interested in examining the use of Minnesota's state–mandated Personal Learning Plans (PLPs). Implemented at the district level, PLPs guide secondary students as they chart their academic course and explore potential careers. Palmer hopes the alliance will investigate how well these plans support student achievement and college and career readiness.

"We're pretty excited about that," Palmer notes, "because we feel it's a critical lever. PLPs have nine required elements that all students must be engaged in no later than grade 9, but we're wondering how that plays out because it's purely up to districts to do. The only real accountability piece is that [the plan] needs to be reviewed with students and their parents at least once a year, but then there's really no way to know how that's being done, if it's being done, and to what degree of fidelity."

Palmer believes that PLPs have the potential to help students round out and personalize their education journeys, guiding them to discover not only their interests but their talents and, ultimately, their careers. As a parent, she is passionate about not only addressing students' individual needs and aspirations but also tapping into their unique gifts and talents.

"We have so many new students who are bilingual, trilingual, or multiculturally competent," she explains. "Those gifts and skills are uniquely priceless in helping to navigate and address the needs of today's workplace and the world."

When asked what she hopes the alliance will achieve, Palmer replies, "That we'll illustrate findings that compel our communities and legislators to invest in whatever it is that helps bring PLPs to life. Is it funding more experiential learning? Is it funding more guidance counselors? Is it funding more preparatory programs to recruit and develop counselors? Is it providing externships for classroom teachers to experience how academics play out in today's workplace? Is it revising graduation requirements? I mean, what are the ingredients in the secret sauce for success? "

Through her work with MCRRA and REL Midwest, Palmer hopes to discover some of these ingredients for success to ensure Minnesota's students graduate ready for a career and life. "In the end," she adds, "success is obtaining the career that matches our interests and abilities and helps to sustain ourselves and our family."

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Author(s) Information

Joni Wackwitz Staff Picture

Joni Wackwitz

Senior Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


Beating the odds (2)

Charter Schools (2)

College and Career Readiness (42)

Data Use (32)

Discipline (4)

Early Childhood (31)

Educator Effectiveness (36)

English Learners (10)

Literacy (11)

Math (1)

Online Courses (7)

Research Tools (2)

Rural (14)

Teacher Preparation (24)

Teacher Recruitment (2)

Teacher Retention (2)

Teacher Workforce (14)

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