March 22, 2016
It is because of his leadership and advocacy with early college that Dr. Tom Lasley was selected as a recipient of the Champions of Early College Award.

The Birth of Early College in Ohio: Honoring Dr. Tom Lasley for his work advocating for early college high schools

In 2002, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation came to KnowledgeWorks with a radical idea – something called “early college.”

I wasn’t in the room when the deal went down, but KnowledgeWorks legend says the conversation went something like this …

“Here’s the deal,” said Tom Vander Ark, then-head of educational programming for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to then-KnowledgeWorks CEO Chad Wick. “We want to offer first-generation, low-income students the opportunity to earn two years of college credit free of charge.”

That got Chad’s attention. “Excellent! Absolutely! We want that, too! This is great!”

“But wait, there’s more!” Tom wasn’t finished. “And we want students to earn these two years of college credit while they’re still in high school.”

Well … OK …

And, oh yes, we’re going to open this new “early college high school” to any low income or minority student who would be the first in their families to graduate from college – not just AP or IB students. (and oh, by the way, we don’t think AP and IB students will be all that interested anyway). Well … O… OK … we’re with you.

“But … wait for it …” Tom said. “… we’re going to put ninth graders in college classes right alongside traditional college students. It’s going to be great. Just think about it.”

“Yes!” Chad said. “ W-w-wait a minute! You know the concerns people will have. Parents and superintendents and college professors will be worried about 14-year-old, hormone-driven-high school students on a college campus with college students! Have you tried telling a college professor he’s going to be teaching 14-year-olds … 14-year-olds that aren’t necessarily ready for high school, let alone college? W-w-what?!”

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Chad regrouped.

“OK … so let’s say we’re with you, Tom,” said Chad. “What do these early college high schools look like? How do they work?”

“Well, Deborah Wilds has been studying the Middle College model – it’s been out there for years, you know, so there’s that … and we have these Principles … and then there’s the Power of Place,” answered Tom.

Silence … pin drop silence …

“And did we say we could invest some start-up funds for these communities?” asked Tom? “And you do remember these are the very young people KnowledgeWorks was ‘born’ to help, right? And did we say we could invest some start-up funds to get this going?”

Well …. Eventually the deal was sealed and KnowledgeWorks started talking to some of the most influential educators in the state.

Legend has it Dr. Tom Lasley was the first person to answer the call.

Dr. Tom Lasley and Dayton Early College Academy

It is because of his leadership and advocacy with Early College that Dr. Tom Lasley was selected as a recipient of the Champions of Early College Award.Tom signed on to create an early college high school even before KnowledgeWorks had time to create a technical assistance strategy. We all learned and created together. The first time I met Tom, he held up Personalized Learning by Joe DiMartino. The pages were dog-eared. And everyone on his team carried a similarly dog-eared copy of the book. Personalized Learning reigned as the guide to the design of the first prototype for the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA).

When DECA opened its doors in 2003, Tom was the Dean of Education and Allied Professions at the University of Dayton. Tom viewed starting the partnership with Dayton Public Schools as “the right thing to do for low-income students”—as a way the University could give back to the community in which it sits. His willingness to open the doors of UD, a private university, to house DECA – the first ECHS in Ohio – launched a movement for the rest of Ohio and the nation.

Since the school opened in 2003, DECA graduates have earned more than 5,000 college credit hours while in high school, and in the 2014-15 school year, 82 percent of students were first-generation college students.

Tom also served as facilitator for the Ohio Early College Association and has been instrumental in advocating and garnering legislative support for early college high schools in Ohio. His influence goes beyond the Dayton Early College Academy. Tom has helped garner millions of dollars in support for all Ohio early college high schools and helped shape national policy.

It is because of his long history with early college, as a leader and advocate for the movement, that KnowledgeWorks selected Dr. Tom Lasley as one of the first recipients of the Champions of Early College High School Award. While no honor we bestow can adequately convey our appreciation for his work, we’re honored to work alongside him.

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Debbie Howard

Written by: Debbie Howard

Deborah Howard, Senior Director of Operations, leads KnowledgeWorks' research and development work, concentrating on product design and innovation, evaluation and quality control. She blends her unique knowledge and experience in the field of education, non-profit and corporate sectors to help transform public education.

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