Schools make big gains

Sean C. Morgan

While recently released results from statewide assessment tests showed improvements among Sweet Home schools with some declines, administrators were able last week to report to the School Board substantial gains in three other key indicators.

Among them, the graduation rate increased by 10 percentage points last year, going from 71 percent to 81 percent in 2018-19, based on the School District’s raw data. The 2017-18 figure, 71 percent, was released by the state in January and is the one reflected in the high school’s state report card released last week by the Oregon Department of Education.

Supt. Tom Yahraes told the board during its regular meeting on Oct. 14 that the state typically releases official graduation rates in January – after the report card for the previous year.

The graduation rate was at just 63.6 percent for the Class of 2014 and increased to about 71 percent in the following years.

Sweet Home High School Student Success Coordinator Kristin Adams said that that figure was artificially low because many students held off accepting a diploma under a program that allowed them to attend college while the School District paid their tuition using funds from the state’s K-12 budget. The class of 2016 was the last class affected by the program.

Sweet Home High School’s “ninth grade on track” statistic increased by 10 percentage points as well in 2018-19, going from 77 percent to 87.6 percent of freshmen. The statistic counts the freshmen who finished the year with at least six credits. The district report card pegged last year’s on-track percentage at 88 percent. In the past five years, the district had a peak of 84 percent of ninth graders on track in 2015-16 and a low of 77 percent in 2017-18.

Counselor Lisa Malabago told the School Board that the Oregon Department of Education has found that 91 percent of on-track freshmen graduate while just 40 percent of freshmen not on track graduate. Last year, 169 out of 193 freshmen were on track at the end of the year.

The number of regular attenders in the district increased from 61 percent in 2017-18 to 67 percent in 2018-19. Regular attenders are students who attend 90 percent of the total number of school days in a year. In the past five years, the highest percentage of students who were regular attenders was in 2015-16 at 64.9 percent. The lowest was in 2014-15 at 59.7 percent.

To be a regular attender, students can miss no more than 17 days during the school year, Adams said.

“I’m very proud of the work the various teams have been doing,” Yahraes told The New Era. Where the data show potential correlation between efforts and and results, “it shows that where we have targeted efforts in an area, we can change the data.”

At this point, Yahraes wants to make sure the statistics are not flukes, he said. Among the signs they may not be, “in our lower grades we see it’s coming back in academic performance.”

In the upper grades, the district is seeing its targeted efforts showing up in the number of students on track and getting back on track, he said. “I’m predicting huge graduation rates in the years to come, ultimately having our students walk across the stage as proud Sweet Home High School Huskies graduates.”

Adams said the school has targeted the graduation rate for improvement using a re-engagement specialist, a “care team,” a senior counselor and a student advocate.

Jim Kistner is the district’s re-engagement specialist, Adams said, and hands-down, the improvement in the rate is thanks to his work.

Last year, the school added the “homework hub,” where students can get help, and it added summer school and winter school, Adams said. Students also can use the Odysseyware program to recover credits.

A ninth-grade success team of freshman teachers meets weekly to keep track of the freshmen, Malabago said, and they have access to summer and winter school and student advocates.

To help address attendance, teams at each school meet regularly and send “nudge letters” out to families with a student with attendance issues, Adams said. Student advocates build relationships with the students to try to get to the root cause for absence.

At Sweet Home Junior High Principal Colleen Henry has her own “Uber system” for picking up students who don’t have a ride or miss a bus, Adams said.

“We do have some work to do in some areas, and we’re going to do it,” Yahraes said.

Attending the board meeting were board members Jim Gourley, Chanz Keeney, Chairman Jason Redick, Debra Brown, Angela Clegg, Jenny Daniels, Joseph Kennedy and Jason Van Eck. Mike Reynolds was absent.