Here in California, the daily news has settled into an odd mixture of hopefulness and anxiety. On the one hand, the COVID-19 vaccine supply continues to improve, infection and death rates continue to decline, and there is serious talk about getting our students back into physical classrooms sooner rather than later. On the other hand, new virus variants threaten our progress, debate rages about who should be prioritized for the limited vaccines currently in hand, and historical inequities among people and places continue to be manifested and exacerbated in the education sector nearly everywhere you look. In many conversations with friends and colleagues, the primary emotions appear to be frustration and exhaustion. People want easy—or at least clear—answers, and those are in short supply.
Here at NROC, we have been fortunate in that our work was only partially disrupted by the pandemic. In fact, for many of our engagements, the pandemic expanded or deepened our collaborative efforts and created new opportunities for us to reach the students we are trying to help. Over the course of this past year, we have seen substantial gains in the numbers of students we have been able to serve, and in the successes those students have achieved, all across the country. Major new efforts, such as Texas College Bridge, as well as the Career and College Ready Graduate initiative in North Carolina, are up and running.
Our relationships with many of our existing institutional members and partners—big and small—feel strong, and we believe that we are well poised to resume and accelerate our mission-focused work this year and beyond.
That said, a persistent challenge in our work that became even more challenging with the pandemic is the need for productive and collaborative engagement with other people in order to implement solutions and practices that are likely to be effective. NROC staff can only facilitate those efforts, not lead them. In the end, it is critical to our work that we be able to form strong relationships with the teachers, administrators, and others who are more closely connected to the students on the ground. While NROC staff have always worked remotely, most of our member colleagues have not, and that disruption was felt keenly on all sides. In addition, we lost critical opportunities to connect face-to-face, whether at our twice-cancelled annual meeting or at other convenings we would normally attend over the course of the year.
As we pondered what the future might bring, we agreed that it was critical for us to continue to invest in our solutions, like EdReady, with special attention to the requirements that come with scale. Prior to the pandemic, we were pleased that our solutions were becoming more deeply embedded in key institutional practices and expectations; interestingly, the pandemic accelerated those trends. We have continued to work hard to become part of the infrastructure for college-readiness programs (high schools and summer bridge experiences), admissions processes (placement alternatives), and college and career pathways (co-requisite and developmental policies).
But being part of the infrastructure brings additional obligations, many of which are enforced by state or institutional policies. To that end, we have doubled down on performance enhancements, accessibility compliance, stability, privacy controls, and security. Furthermore, many of these considerations go beyond the technologies, encompassing internal practices and procedures utilized by NROC staff, with an eye toward assuring our partners that we are taking good care of their information and protecting their interests. These types of obligations normally accrue to much larger companies, and they are expensive to boot.
Nonetheless, I am proud to say that we recently obtained third-party SOC 2 Type II security certification. This certification is one of the most rigorous industry standards pertaining to information security and is a good representation of the effort we have put toward complying with operating principles and practices that are in keeping with our growing position as the provider of mission-critical solutions.
We have a number of additional milestones and improvements in the pipeline, scheduled to roll out in the coming months. We are feeling optimistic with our timing given that so many educational institutions and systems are taking advantage of the pandemic’s disruption to reconsider problematic legacy practices but can ill afford to take unnecessary risks as they try to get everyone back on their physical campuses and classrooms.
As you start putting your plans in place for this Spring, Summer, or Fall, be sure to drop us a line. We’re eager to help usher in new and improved practices and outcomes oriented to student readiness and success, and we’re ready for you.