High school officials focus on boosting graduates

Sean C. Morgan

In their new positions at Sweet Home High School, Kristin Adams and Chris Hiaasen are spearheading the district’s Measure 98-based efforts to increase high school graduation rates.

Adams, who was formerly the district’s GEAR-UP coordinator, will be Sweet Home High School’s new Measure 98 “success coordinator.” Hiaasen moves from the dean of students position to vice principal next school year.

Oregon voters in 2016 approved Measure 98, which requires the state to provide funding to efforts to increase graduation rates.

The district is looking to Measure 98 to fund a variety of programs, but “it’s not the goal of the bill to make all these programs,” Adams said. “The goal is to increase graduation.”

Measure 98 funds three areas to help meet that goal, Adams told the School Board during a presentation on March 12: to establish or expand career and technical education (CTE) programs in high schools; to establish or expand college-level educational opportunities for students in high schools; and to establish or expand dropout-prevention strategies in high schools.

To improve college readiness, Hiaasen said, the High School has already altered the requirements for an honors diploma.

The changes do not affect students who were already on the path to an honors diploma, Hiaasen said, but the new requirements do address difficulties that some students had pursuing an honors diploma.

In a five-period day, scheduling conflicts forced students to pick between things like choir and the honors diploma, Hiaasen said. The new system relies on performance in honors-level classes with an expansion in the number and availability of such instruction.

“I feel that we’ve upped the rigor a bit,” Hiaasen said. An honors diploma requires students to earn higher grades. Under the old program, students could earn an honors diploma by earning just a D in honors classes.

New offerings increase the number of opportunities for students to earn college credit, Hiaasen said. Last year, 90 students earned 853 credits in the College Now program.

School officials would like to see students have the opportunity to earn upward of 26 college credits each, Adams said. All of the offerings are 100 level – freshman – college classes.

Local industry representatives have been asking Linn-Benton Community College to expand its healthcare program, Adams said, and the district is introducing a class next year in medical terminology to give high school students a chance to begin earning credit in that two-year LBCC program.

The school has a lot of college-readiness opportunities available, Adams said. “We’re putting a lot of money into our CTE.”

The school is adding a forestry and natural resources program next year, Adams said. She is working with Ammon Mills on an introduction to engineering and entrepreneurship program that will include product design and the creation of a business producing things using a 3D printer.

The dropout prevention piece “kind of scares me,” Adams said. “It’s kind of a silent epidemic throughout the nation.”

Across the country, 7,000 high school students drop out every day, Adams said. SHHS is looking at hiring a re-engagement specialist, who will develop relationships with students and their parents to help encourage them back into school.

The program will look primarily at “yellow-zone” students, Adams said, students on the edge of dropping out.

Overall, state officials are looking for improvement over the next four to six years, Adams said.