Making middle school a better experience for Spokane students is one way to boost the high school graduation rate, which has slipped to 61 percent in Spokane Public Schools, a group of community volunteers says.
Priority Spokane has raised $50,000 for a study next year of what works well for middle school students, in and out of the classroom. The research could lead to major changes at the two-year schools.
“Among other things, improving the graduation rate will reduce the incarceration rate, increase revenue and produce more taxpayers,” said Mark Hurtubise, president and CEO of the Inland Northwest Community Foundation and a member of Priority Spokane’s steering committee. “There’s an urgency to do something as a community about the dropout rate. We believe this can be accomplished by dramatically enhancing the middle school experience.”
The Inland Northwest Community Foundation, which serves 20 counties and awards grants to nonprofit organizations, contributed $25,000 for the study. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, through its Pacific Northwest U.S. Program, also gave $25,000, said Ken Thompson, program officer.
The Gates Foundation was impressed with the depth of Priority Spokane’s steering committee, Hurtubise said. It includes a university president, directors of community foundations, city council members, mayors, county commissioners and health officials.
The study contract will be awarded in February. It is expected to take six months. “Once the study is completed, as a community we’d have to raise a significant amount of money to put the initiative to work,” Hurtubise said.
Nancy Stowell, Spokane Public Schools superintendent, said she and the school board are pleased with the effort. “As a school system, we are of course interested in that,” Stowell said. “We are already looking at the middle school system, including programming, interventions and level of rigor.”
Another grass-roots effort, Our Kids: Our Business, is also working to improve graduation rates, but isn’t focused on one age group in the schools, said Mary Ann Murphy, executive director of Partners with Families and Children. “Any investment in childhood is going to give a return and the earlier the better,” she said. “Middle school is a critical time for kids because they are making that transition.”