Number of freshmen on track to graduate climbs

Sean C. Morgan

The percentage of ninth-grade students on track to graduate at this point in the school year has increased by more than six points over last school year.

This year, 90.8 percent of freshmen are on track to graduate, high school math teacher Darren Perry told the School Board Monday night. That’s up from 84.7 percent last year. (The freshman class has 195 students – 10 percent is 19.5 students.)

By the end of last school year, just 77 percent were on track to graduate, down 1 percent from the previous year, while 85 percent of freshmen were on track statewide. Freshmen on track to walk the aisle in 2023 are those who have completed a quarter of the credits required to graduate.

Freshmen attendance has also improved, Perry said. At this point in the year, freshmen have an attendance rate of 94.8 percent, an increase from 91 percent last year.

Supt. Tom Yahraes credits the gains to a team of 15 staff members, including Perry, who is the team leader, dedicated to keeping freshmen on track to graduate. The team is funded by Measure 98, passed by voters to improve graduation rates.

“It’s one of the indicators on our new district report card,” Yahraes said. “It’s an indicator imposed by the state that will suggest a kid’s likelihood to graduate.”

Statistically, a freshman who completes one quarter of the required credits and passing core classes during the freshman year has a high probability of graduating, Yahraes said. “When I look at the data, we’re seeing great movement.”

Research shows that most dropouts have made that decision by the sixth week of their freshman year, Perry said, so it’s important to catch them quickly.

The team’s mission is “building relationships and providing supports and interventions that meet the individual needs of ninth-grade students.”

To do that, the team evaluates data and identifies students who need support, Perry said. “We look at the data for ninth-grade students. We specifically look at students failing two or three classes (and attending more than 85 percent of classes).”

Those failing one class can remain on track, Perry said. Those failing more or missing more than 15 percent of school have deeper problems, and programs already exist to help them.

Students fail for a variety of reasons, such as the effects of poverty, Perry said.

Kristi Walker, who serves as the district’s homeless liaison, told the board that half of all homeless students do not graduate.

The team is able to connect students with resources and address their various needs, Perry said, although members struggle to deal with drug-related problems or absentee parents.

On an ongoing basis, the team communicates with the ninth-graders, checks in with teachers about their concerns and connects students to advocates and resources, Perry said. Beginning in February, the team will meet once a month to analyze system-wide data and discuss changes to improve student success.

The team will start talking about common grading practices, common policies from classroom to classroom and common language, Perry said. When the expectations are different in different rooms, it can confuse the students.

“The teachers are feeling better about the proactive approach rather than reactivally addressing ninth-graders that were not successful,” Perry said. “The culture is starting to change.”

Rather than seeing students as failures, Perry said, teachers are starting to ask, “how can we help these ninth graders become more successful?”

That’s spilling out into the other grades, Perry said, and rather than teachers existing in islands, they are working more as teams.

Added to that, the Boys and Girls Club’s 21st Century Learning Centers after-school program is proving successful for high school students, Perry said, noting that a student who passed just one class last term and turned to the after-school program is passing all of his classes this term.

Attending the meeting were board members Toni Petersen, Jim Gourley, Jason Van Eck, Mike Reynolds, Chairman Jason Redick, Angela Clegg and Debra Brown. Absent were Chanz Keeney and Jenny Daniels.

In other business:

– Holley Elementary School won the district’s monthly attendance award for December with an attendance rate of 95.35 percent, edging out Hawthorne Elementary School’s 95.07 percent and taking the Holley Hawks-Hawthorne Hornets-bedecked Golden Shoe, which is now unrecognizable as a shoe, back to Holley.

Sweet Home Charter School was at 95.02 percent. Oak Heights was at 94.12 percent, and Foster was at 93.46 percent.

The junior high had 92.82 percent attendance, while the high school had 89.5 percent.

Yahraes told the board that attendance was up 1 percent, 92.72 percent, districtwide as of Dec. 31 compared to the same date last school year.

Holley Principal Todd Barrett said his school was tired of getting beaten by Hawthorne, and “we called the students out and challenged them.”

The school’s goal is to reach 98 percent attendance, he said.

– The board approved the surplus of a 1985 Chevrolet pickup with 101,000 miles, a 1999 Chevrolet Suburban with 213,000 miles, a 1994 GMC Suburban with 207,000 miles and a 1978 International dump truck with 132,000 miles.

– The board accepted an $8,000 grant from the Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital Social Accountability budget to purchase bicycles for the Sweet Home Junior High bicycle education program.

– Approved an annual agreement for services with the Linn-Benton-Lincoln Education Service District.

– Approved the retirement of Vickie McGillivray, speech and language pathologist at Oak Heights Elementary, effective June 30.