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Editorial: Spokane’s dropout turnaround proves resounding success

It’s astonishing to see how rapidly the dropout rate has fallen in Spokane schools.

Four years ago, the school board declined to endorse a property tax levy aimed at lowering the dropout rate from 29 percent to 23 percent after six years. Board members didn’t want the district to be held responsible for such an ambitious, specific target.

Ultimately, voters rejected the Children’s Investment Fund, but the dropout rate has plunged to 17 percent – certainly lower than anyone dared to predict. And though the levy failed, the debate helped spark an effort that swept in a wide range of community helpers.

Six years ago, the mood was dark. Four of every 10 kids were dropping out. Many leaders were discouraged.

If the community couldn’t stem the decline, it would face higher costs in social services and criminal justice. Unemployment would rise, and companies might start looking for better educational climates for their workers and their families. If the district couldn’t stem the decline, it faced the prospect of levy failures, along with losing state educational dollars.

Educators could’ve rested on the assumption that there’s only so much schools can do, but the district instead conducted an in-depth examination of the myriad factors leading up to dropout decisions. Business and political leaders could’ve blamed the district, but instead they provided vital support.

Priority Spokane — a group of community and civic leaders — and the Inland Northwest Community Foundation, led by Mark Hurtubise, were big contributors.

The entire community rallied to find solutions.

Now the district has a detailed database that tracks student behavior, attendance and grades. Signs of failure trigger a variety of interventions, such as mentoring, tutoring and providing alternative educational opportunities. Groceries from mobile food banks can be delivered. Struggling families can be steered to the appropriate social agency.

Much like the “broken windows” theory of crime reduction, targeting early classroom failure has proven to be successful.

At all of the district’s comprehensive high schools, more than 80 percent of the students receive diplomas. The most amazing turnaround has occurred at Rogers High School, where the graduation rate was only 49 percent in 2008.

The district’s overall rate of 83 percent exceeds the state average of 76 percent. In a district in which more than half the students qualify for meal subsidies, that’s impressive.

This success has drawn national attention, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation bestowing its Culture of Health Award on community leaders. Foundation Director Marjorie Paloma cited the “laser focus” of Spokane’s “incredible collaboration.”

The entire community should be proud of this achievement, but it must remain committed to the cause.

It takes a village to raise the hopes and broaden the horizons of children. In turn, the village grows stronger.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.
 

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