School District Embraces a College-Going Culture

District Spotlight: West Ottawa Public Schools

Most of our Spotlights take a close look at a Local College Access Network, but this week we're shining the light on a school district: West Ottawa Public Schools. Their talented staff embraces a college-going culture and regularly takes MCAN initiatives and opportunities to a new level for the betterment of their students and the community.

From College Application Week to College Decision Day. From investment in postsecondary planning training and hiring a college advisor to utilization of the online transcript process. West Ottawa has streamlined their college-going process through a dedicated, all-hands-on-deck approach.

How has this level of engagement been possible? Everyone, from the district superintendent to the building level staff, believes in the district-wide mission of preparing all students to be college, career and life ready. The district is also deliberate in defining the term "college" so students from early on understand it's more than a bachelor's degree. Everything West Ottawa does is connected to their mission.


West Ottawa counselors receive Postsecondary Planning
Training Course completion certificates

"Receiving the postsecondary planning training was essential, " said Tania Dozeman, West Ottawa High School counselor. Five counselors from West Ottawa Public Schools completed MCAN's Postsecondary Planning Training Course in June 2014. "It's common for a counselor to learn about college advising in the trenches once they've landed a job since job duties and traditional training don't match up. Gaining this knowledge has helped with the excitement of counseling staff." In addition to providing postsecondary planning training opportunities for current counselors, West Ottawa has invested in hosting a College Advising Corps member since 2011.

What has this focus and engagement done for counselors? It means counselors and the college adviser are spending less time on instruction for the steps to college with students and parents and more time exploring the best match and fit because students are hearing the message sooner and from more individuals than their counselor. Teachers, coaches, office staff are all talking about college. Students know what is expected of them and they understand the college-going language.

"Students are coming to us willingly with more, well-defined questions about the college-going process," said Mitch Veldkamp, West Ottawa High School counselor. "Before there was more pulling and proding from the counselors."

This year, 90% of seniors completed an application by end conclusion of Michigan's College Application Week. It was an easy accomplishment because their seniors were ready and knew what was expected from them after watching three previous senior classes participate. College Application Week has grown so much and is embraced by all that their middle school participated for the first time this year.

"Initiatives like College Application Week and College Decision Day are fun culture-building programs that all high schools should participate in," said Todd Tulgestke, West Ottawa principal. "However, if it's not important to your building leadership, it will be really hard to pull off. Everyone needs to be committed to creating a college-going culture."

To learn more about West Ottawa Public Schools visit We also encourage you to check out some of the creative ways that West Ottawa is engaging students through Twitter (@WestOttawaHS and @GOWO_College).

 College Is WOstudents

West Ottawa High School students share what "College is..." to them.

Lisa King headshot 2013Author: Lisa King, public relations consultant for the Michigan College Access Network

Posted: December 3, 2014

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