Highline Schools: Graduation demystified (Part Two)

Editor’s note: Last week we ran part one of this story, detailing the change in graduation rates for Highline District students.(Part one)

by Ann Kendall

What does this mean for teachers?

Sue McCabe, President of the Highline Education Association is direct when she says, “No professional desires student success more than the educators in our buildings who interact with students every day.” The mentoring part of the Strategic Plan is key to student success – and unlike some mentoring programs teachers, principals and school administrators are all involved in the 15 day check-in process with each ninth grade student. Teachers can only teach if students are in the classroom, so when an absence is notified mentors look into what the attendance issue might be – and they work to fix whatever issue might be delaying or preventing a student from arriving ready to learn and on-time. Mentors are just one part of the process says McCabe, “Ample resources must be provided to offer the supports students need to reach their goals,” and community support of education is critical to the success of each of the community’s students.

The impact on students and parents

Brandy’s son is part of this first class to be part of Highline’s new mentoring plan. As an eighth grader he struggled, often failing classes which led him to believe he was just not that good at school – maybe it just wasn’t for him. In coming into this new program, he was apprehensive but right away school started to change for him and he began to change for school. With the sometimes intense scrutiny and intense expectations, Brandy’s son is now earning A’s in math where before he failed – Brandy describes the turn-around as so dramatic that her son now speaks of college – something that never would’ve entered his mind just a few months ago. Brandy says, it seems simple, the new plans that the district has adopted – it is clearly time consuming for teachers and administrators but the simple act of regular check-ins is not only improving things for her son, it is giving him a new future.

Kristy, also a ninth grade parent, agrees – this is the first year her son is passing all of his classes, and he is not shying away from the topics that presented challenges in the past. At first he struggled and needed the extra help of staying after school two days a week to get him comfortable with learning and ready to explore new challenges. With four reporting periods each semester in addition to the 15 day check-ins, she feels well informed, knows how to help her son and appreciates the extra guidance of the mentoring process. She credits the principal at AAA, Norman Barrineau and the Student Success Dean Gerald Carrell as being dynamic parts of the learning process – open door policies make both students and families feel welcome part of the team, all working towards student success. Kristy says, “My son will be able to choose his future. I don’t feel we could do any better than that, it is just great.”

Catherine Carbone Rogers, Chief Communications Officer for the district is clear about the clarity and impact of the Strategic Plan’s mission, “We are taking very seriously the 19 out of 20 across the graduation line in four years, possibly the fifth year timeframe. Sometimes students need extra time and we are committed to that extra time.” Chief Accountability Officer, Alan Spicciati, confirms this commitment, “We are not focused on drop-out rates. A key cornerstone of our strategic plan is to increase graduation rates and college or career readiness – we have so many students that we know can be successful.” Carbone Rogers follows this with, “It is important for the whole community to support schools to make a strong community.”

A multitude of ways exist for community involvement including supporting the Highline Schools Foundation (www.highlineschoolsfoundation.org/) which provides funding for college visits, funding for classroom projects and scholarships. Highline Citizens for Schools (highlineschools.blogspot.com/) is a committee of local community members from throughout the district concerned with levy sponsorship and passage. Highline’s Career Pathways program brings local business owners and leaders together with students; one aspect of the Strategic Plan is that each student will participate in a job based experience before graduation. Career Pathways partners might visit a classroom to share their experience, offer a job shadow or internship; information available on the Highline website at www.highlineschools.org/.

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