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Spokane high school graduation rates rise

District credits new programs, better tracking with helping students succeed in four years

More than 75 percent of Spokane Public Schools students are sporting the mortarboard after four years in high school, a preliminary review of the district’s graduation rates shows.

That’s up from an on-time graduation rate of slightly more than 60 percent in 2007-’08 and up nearly 7 percentage points since last year, when the district began using a federal guideline to calculate graduation rates. Superintendent Nancy Stowell attributed the improvement to “a shift in expectation, culture and some viable interventions.”

Said district spokeswoman Terren Roloff, “This is really exciting.”

While the overall improvement is a point of pride, district officials were especially beaming over Rogers High School’s on-time graduation rate; it jumped 19 percentage points last year – to 74 percent from 55 percent – compared with 2010.

A career- and college-readiness grant called GEAR UP was a big factor, said Rogers Principal Lori Wyborney. “We really focused our work around doing everything we can from the time they get here to get them to graduate and on college campuses.”

GEAR UP, which stands for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, helped provide resources for intervention programs, college entrance exams, counselors and support for low-income students pursuing a postsecondary education. That grant predates a three-year, $4 million federal School Improvement Grant that Rogers received in 2011 to improve the graduation rate and academics.

Wyborney said the School Improvement Grant was like GEAR UP, “only on steroids.”

When students arrive at the school, administrators ask, “ ‘How are you doing? What classes are you taking? And how can we help make you be more comfortable?’ The key is giving them hope for something after high school,” she said.

Wyborney said to expect another leap in the on-time graduation rates with the class of 2012.

“I don’t think it will jump up 19 percent, but I bet it will be 7 or 8 percent,” she said.

Graduation rates improved at all the district’s high schools with the exception of Lewis and Clark, which dropped about 1.3 percentage points. Shadle Park has the highest on-time graduation rate with 87.2 percent.

Fred Schrumpf, director of interventions, said there are five elements that really “tell the story of our success”:

• Tracking the students – all the principals know if any of their students are missing and where they went.

• A single point of contact for kids asking to be released for GED – the students are assessed to determine if the district offers a program that might work better than the traditional school.

• Targeted identification and support of students with multiple risk factors, such as truancy.

• Opportunity for credit retrieval – a new program that allows students to complete work they failed in class, but not repeat the whole class.

• On-Track Academy – a credit retrieval program linked to the district’s skills center.

“The district has more flexibility,” Schrumpf said.

Added Joan Poirier, who helped coordinate the efforts to better track students, “There are options, more than we’ve ever had.”

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