Growing up in a single-parent, low-income household in the late 1970s, Julie Lueallen had fewer opportunities to excel in education.
Now, she’s the principal of East Ridge High School, one of the highest-performing schools in south Lake County, Fla.
Growing up, she said, she was an average student who had potential. Her teachers did not steer her into honor courses, which at the time were the only classes available for students to receive more rigorous coursework that would prepare them for college.
“It was all in your grades,” she said. “Nobody even talked about opening that world to me. They counseled kids, but not the kind of kid like me.”
Lueallen, a product of nearby Tavares High School, said she had some excellent teachers. But she might never have gotten onto a college-preparatory track without an advocate who knew the school system well and argued on her behalf: her mother.
“If my mom was not pushing I wouldn’t have gotten into honors courses,” she said. “Having a parent that is savvy in a high school curriculum. That is important.”
Now, as a principal, she advocates for all students to take advantage of the opportunities she and her mother had to fight for. Her school has emerged as a leader in Florida’s effort to push more into Advanced Placement courses and toward college credits.
According to a new report from the College Board, the nonprofit that administers the AP program, Florida ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of graduating seniors who have passed at least one AP exam, which can lead to credit for an entry-level college course. Over the past decade, low-income children of color have driven most of the state’s improvements.
Beginning in the 1990s, Florida leaders decided to open AP courses to more low-income, black and Hispanic students. The College Board, which administers AP exams, has adopted an equity and access policy, which states: