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Grant gives Rogers options

Fri., April 1, 2011

School’s fight against dropouts gets $4 million

Rogers High School was already showing signs of improvement in student attendance, behavior and academics, but a three-year, $4 million federal grant announced Thursday will help the school keep up the momentum, school and district officials say.

The Spokane high school was one of six schools in Washington – and about 200 nationwide – to be awarded the competitive School Improvement Grant, said state officials who administer the federal grant. The money will be used to improve on-time graduation and standardized test scores.

“We think this is going to be a really good opportunity for us to really find out what works for our students and really turn this school around,” said Principal Lori Wyborney. “Our goal is to become a high-performing high school at every level, in every category, starting with the graduation rate.”

Just 50.9 percent of Rogers students graduated on time in 2009. Rogers’ student scores in reading, writing and math were 10 to 20 percentage points below the state average in 2010. Nearly 80 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch at the school, located within the state’s poorest ZIP code.

The arduous process of applying for the grant was an effort made by administrators, Rogers staff and faculty and Spokane’s school board president. “This has been an example of collaboration that works,” said Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Nancy Stowell.

During the past three years attendance and academics have improved at Rogers because of plans already in place. A zero-tolerance policy in tardiness and bad behavior has resulted in increased attendance and school focus.

Wyborney said one criterion for the grant is whether a school’s improvement plan can be replicated elsewhere. “Can they (the government) take your plan and put it into another high school and will it work?”

Rogers will receive $1.5 million in the first year of the grant, 2011-’12. But plans are already mapped out for all three years.

The school day will be extended by 30 minutes, Wyborney said. The administration and staff are still trying to determine how the extra time will be added, but some options are five minutes longer for each period or 30 minutes added to third period for students who need extra help.

The school will also hire a couple more achievement-gap staff, who often help students in minority or low-income groups.

“The school also plans to hire intake specialists, who will be able to shuffle students to the services that they need,” Wyborney said. The specialists “help with the wrap-around services that they need, such as going to the food bank or Social Security office.”

Academic support services will be expanded so students can get more help in the summer, at night and in the morning, Wyborney said. Some money will go into Advanced Placement classes and buy more technology to support testing and additional student learning.

“Probably one of the coolest things we are going to do is have the district hire a northeast neighborhood math coordinator to work with all our feeder schools, starting at fifth grade,” Wyborney said.

Additionally, all staff except administrators will get bonus pay if they meet goals, such as achieving an on-time graduation rate of 66 percent in 2012, 77 percent in 2013 and 83 percent in 2014, Wyborney said.

“It’s really significant what they are doing to help kids in their learning,” said Stowell, the district superintendent. “I’m excited. I think they will be able to do some things that we want to use in the other high schools.”

“This is a big deal,” said Sue Chapin, Spokane school board president. “It’s a huge grant. It shows that not only do we as a district believe that they can do it, but so does the state. This is going to have a nice impact on the students in that school too.”

Said Wyborney, “We have a lot of work to do, but it’s going to be fun and very rewarding. Hopefully, in three years we will be able to present our plan to the U.S. Department of Education and say: Here’s what works. Here you go.”

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