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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Dropouts are fewer but fight isn’t over

Spokane Public Schools has made excellent progress reducing the student dropout rate, but the district remains in C-plus/B-minus territory. Priority Spokane wants the district to earn an A-minus.

With a new consultant study in hand, a new executive director, and additional corporate and foundation funding, the community organization is raising the bar for Spokane schools, and those in surrounding districts as well. Graduation is one thing; a diploma that comes with the skills to succeed in college is another. That’s the kind of degree graduates need, and that’s the kind of degree the community needs to fill high-tech jobs and the nation needs to sustain global leadership.

But first, let’s review.

For the 2007-’08 school year, only 60.3 percent of students graduated on time. Almost 30 percent of their classmates dropped out. Comparing the class of 2010 with the class of 2011, the district’s graduation rate improved from 68.2 percent to 76.7 percent. The dropout rate fell 15.9 percent, a little more than one-half the rate for the 2008 class.

The news at Rogers High School was particularly good. The graduation rate surged to 76 percent from 55 percent, a tremendous achievement.

But the goal is a districtwide rate of 90 percent, an A-minus.

The district’s director of on-time graduate rates, Fred Schrumpf, told a gathering of community leaders Tuesday that a dropout rate of 16 percent represents 320 students. “That’s not good enough,” he said. Well said.

The district has made progress by pairing up successful and struggling students, providing mentors and expanding options like summer school that enable students to catch up. Much of the focus has been shifted to middle schools, where poor attendance, bad behavior and failing grades mark at least one-half of potential dropouts.

A sixth-grader with just four unexcused absences has only a 23 percent probability of graduating.

No surprise, the schools’ problems usually involve challenges outside the classroom. And that is where Priority Spokane hopes to marshal more community resources. One possibility is a truancy board modeled after one already established by the West Valley School District. The boards are not a dragnet for school absentees. Rather, they meet with students and families to determine what resources may be lacking, down to food and shelter, and how they can be provided.

Other organizations such as United Way of Spokane, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Communities in Schools are also participating.

Thanks to the work that has already been done, the Spokane district’s incoming superintendent, Shelley Redinger, will have some powerful new tools that will allow her administration to better identify at-risk students and offer a better understanding of what kinds of interventions work.

The district will never get from 320 dropouts to zero, but who would have predicted the progress made in just the last few years?

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