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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Propelled by hard work, Spokane high school graduation rates continue to trend upward

iCAN teacher Joey Pascal congratulates her student on a successful quiz during lab time, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, at North Central High School. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
iCAN teacher Joey Pascal congratulates her student on a successful quiz during lab time, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, at North Central High School. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

So what’s driving the higher graduation rates in Spokane high schools?

A lot of hard work, mostly, from teachers, counselors and students at every grade level.

Few are working harder than the staff at North Central High School, which last year saw 93 percent of seniors earn their diplomas.

Five years ago, that number was 77 percent.

Though less dramatic, it’s the same story at other Spokane high schools, where on-time graduation rates have risen from an average of 78 percent in 2013 to 88 percent last spring.

Meanwhile, statewide numbers were stagnant, going from 77 to 79 percent.

“We were shocked when we first heard, but it makes sense,” said NC counselor Macie Pate, who also credited Spokane Public Schools’ adoption several years ago of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, from the elementary school level and up.

“Success starts at home, but there also has to be a working relationship between the school and the parents,” Pate said.

“We’ve had success stories for kids who maybe don’t have that support at home but we’ve been able to build those things into the school day,” Pate said.

For teacher Joey Pascal, the day lasts well past the 3 p.m. closing bell. Now in her 16th year at NC, Pascal is the face of the school’s ICAN program, which operates as a safety net but also demands accountability.

The class averages seven to 10 students a day, a diverse group with one common denominator.

“Most of these kids have had a struggle somewhere,” Pascal said. “This is their opportunity to not make that a permanent issue.”

For a variety of reasons, most have fallen dangerously behind the curve in a system that demands 24 credits for graduation.

“They’re digging out,” Pascal said. “But we get to know them personally and know what drives them. They just need a little more encouragement.”

The system, which incorporates an early warning system of sorts, is also part of the solution, Pate said.

Thanks to the attention of counselors, teachers and support staff, sophomores who are one or two electives off target find themselves on the school’s academic radar.

“Our high schools have obviously made this an emphasis, and they have put lots of structures in place,” said Adam Swinyard, the district’s chief academic officer.

By fall of their sophomore year, at-risk students at all high schools are given some palatable choices: zero-hour physical education, a summer skills center or online classes through Spokane Virtual Learning.

“We look at early interventions to get them back on track,” Pate said. “We look at school credit recovery, and then in the spring of their sophomore year we start looking at asking them whether NC is the best place to get their high school education.”

The groundwork for avoiding failure is being laid early, in elementary schools.

Districtwide, the percentage of sixth-graders meeting college and career-ready benchmarks for math proficiency rose to 49 percent last year. It was the same story for language arts, where 57.1 percent of sixth-graders met the criteria.

The payoff is being seen at the high school level, where last year 79 percent of freshmen were passing all of their classes. A year earlier that number was 74.5 percent.

Beyond the data is something more important, NC Principal Steve Fisk believes.

“I was thinking about those numbers,” Fisk said. “At 16 to 20 kids a year, that’s 150 or so after eight years. That’s six classrooms of kids who are making a difference in Spokane and in the world.”

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