Woods Leads Oxford School District to National Prominence

By on May 3, 2019

By Alice Hummer

 Imagine a secondary school where students earn both a diploma and a college associate’s degree while attending a four year public high school.

David A. Woods, a 1987 Cocalico High School graduate, recently made that dream a reality. Woods, superintendent of Oxford Area School District in Chester County, created the Early College Academy (ECA), which is a partnership between Harrisburg Area Community College and Oxford High School.

The program, which launches summer, is modeled off a similar program, Woods said “This continues what we already know works. When I came to Oxford in 2013 to serve as superintendent, there was the idea to partner with Cecil College, located in Maryland and less than 30 minutes away from us.”

Woods, superintendent of Oxford Area School District in Chester County, created the Early College Academy (ECA), which is a partnership between Harrisburg Area Community College and Oxford High School.

We partnered with Cecil College and had 15 students graduate with associate’s degrees in 2018,” said Woods.

How the Early College Academy Works Students are selected on the basis of their grade point average, teacher recommendation  and are required to complete Algebra I.

Teachers are looking for a 3.0 GPA in eighth grade, Woods said.

Oxford holds parent meetings in eighth grade where the program leading to an associate’s degree is explained. Following a summer college-prep orientation, the college coursework in ninth and tenth grades is done at the high school.

“We want students to have the high school experience,” Woods said. “It’s important students stay in the building for that reason.”

Instructors come either from the community college or, in some cases, the college vets
some of Oxford’s teachers to serve as adjunct instructors. During 11th grade, students are at the college one-half day.

Students in 12th grade attend college most of the day. This is similar to a student who would choose to take technical training off-site.

What happens when more students indicate interest in the
program then there are slots available? Woods said the selection criteria stands and that’s one of the reasons the district began about a year ago, looking to expand the program with a Pennsylvania partner.

Currently the high school has four cohort groups —approximately 100 students participating in the Cecil College associate’s degree program. “Many high schools provide a plan where students can be dual enrolled in both high school and
college courses,” said Woods.

In certain individual cases, students in those high schools could choose a track whereby they’d pay for additional coursework to be eligible for a degree.

Paying for the Associate’s Degree Program “Typically schools and in
some cases municipalities help to underwrite costs of a local junior college,” explained Woods.

“Our district helps offset some of the costs by providing transportation. Our PTO, school
foundation and Oxford Chamber of Commerce donate capital to help with program costs.
Although the district provides bus transportation to and from Cecil College and will provide the same when HAAC’s Lancaster campus begins the program later this year, parents do pay a tuition cost of $7,500 for courses leading to the twoyear, associate’s degree.

These costs are reduced from what a traditional student would pay per credit. Parents can use their own private dollars from their 529 college savings plan if they have one.

Proof of Success

The district has had no problem with students transferring the credits earned in the Cecil College program to any other college. “We have articulation agreements with some schools in the region.

However, students have transferred credits to schools outside of our area, such as
University of Pittsburgh, Kansas State and Central Florida. Here’s where our high school
counselors and the college counselors come in to explain what the program is to college
admissions counselors who don’t have knowledge of any similar programs like this one,”
said Woods.

Oxford Area School District also learned how well their students fit into the college environment. Woods said initially when the Cecil College program began, the college dedicated a room to serve as a student lounge for the Oxford students.

“What happened was that ourstudents felt comfortable and enjoyed interacting with the
college students. Our students reported that other students didn’t know that they were any different from themselves. The student lounge set aside to serve our high school students wasn’t used, and consequently was discontinued,” said Woods.

Woods’ Background

David A. Woods, a 1987 Cocalico High School graduate, Imagined a secondary school where students earn both a diploma and a college associate’s degree while attending a four year public high school.

Assistant superintendent, Dr. Margaret Billings-Jones, credited Woods with “lots of good ideas.” The enthusiasm and hard work of Woods and his team is obvious with the success of students afforded these innovative programs.

Woods quickly shared accolades with teaching staff, counselors, building administrators
and the assistant superintendent for the district’s success. His family includes several educators – a father who was principal in Twin Valley School District, and two sisters who are teachers.

A life-long learner himself, Woods will finish his studies for a doctorate in education degree from Drexel University next year. His bachelor’s degree is from Kutztown University, his master’s degree and Superintendent’s Letter of Eligibility from Weidner University. When this leader does get to relax, it’s outdoors. He golfs, fishes and hunts. At one time he owned three bird dogs.

Previously Woods served Riverside School District in Lackawanna County and Northern Lebanon School District.

Alice Hummer is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review. 

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