An educational collaborative to offer expanded college-level opportunities to high school students and strengthen ties between the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and Santa Monica College (SMC) was announced Monday, May 21st, by officials of the school district and the college.

While the college and the school district have worked together for some time, they have finally “formalized” the collaboration with a memorandum of understanding approved by the SMC board of trustees and the district school board.

With the formal collaborative, the efforts between the college and the district will be more organized, more involved and expanded for high school students, said Chiung-Sally Chou, chief academic officer for the Santa Monica-Malibu district.

Several new initiatives will be undertaken as early as this summer, school district superintendent Dianne Talarico said.

“Our goal is to increase access for all students,” said Talarico, who believes the collaborative will extend opportunities to more students in the district.

“This is a historic event that greatly increases college course offerings to an even wider variety of high school students in the unified school district,” said SMC president Dr. Chui L. Tsang of the collaborative. “Santa Monica College is a major resource for educational advancement and enrichment to our local high school students and we want them to take full advantage of our excellence.”

Many, like Talarico and Tsang, also hope that this collaborative will increase the number of students wishing to pursue post-secondary education.

Under the new collaborative, college courses for high school students at SMC and at the high schools in core and elective programs will be expanded.

The college and the district will also work closely to develop articulation in English and math so that more “students are prepared for college-level courses when they enter SMC or other institutions of higher education,” officials said.

Also, an Early College High School Program for ninth-to-12th-graders will be established. Details of the program are still in the works.

“It’s a great day for our kids,” Talarico said.

School board vice president Oscar de la Torre agreed, calling the collaborative the mark of a “new era of partnership.”

“It’s an incredible victory for our students and a tremendous milestone for public education,” de la Torre said.

School board president Kathy Wisnicki called it an “exciting educational opportunity for students.”

Rob Rader, vice chair of the SMC Board of Trustees, said he was delighted to be able to “broaden and deepen” the relationship the college already had with the school district to help students achieve.

With this broadening and deepening of the relationship between the college and district, Chou thinks the program will have more structure and “target additional students who have not had the opportunity [to participate].”

Additionally, Chou believes the program will help high school students “get more acclimated to a college campus,” which she thinks may encourage students who have not already done so to pursue post-secondary education.

High school students will be limited to taking 20 credits per semester at SMC, for a total of 40 credits, Chou said. Students will get both high school and college credit for the courses.

“That’s the beauty of the program,” said Jeff Shimizu, SMC academic affairs vice president. “This is all about offering educational opportunities for students.”

The college courses are free to high school students, who are assessed before taking the classes to make sure they are prepared for the course and the workload.

Assessments are free. The only thing students have to pay for is the books.

The bulk of the program will be at SMC, Chou said.

“We want [students] to look at college life — entice students to go to college,” said Chou. “We want them to think, ‘College is an option for me.'”

Former longtime school board member and now 41st District assemblywoman Julia Brownley was not able to attend the gathering, but commended the district and college for their “vision and creativity.”

Brownley said that she believes the collaborative will give Santa Monica-Malibu students “a very advantageous academic jump-start in being fully prepared for college,” and she said she is looking forward to seeing the details of the effort develop.