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by Jessica Brophy
While it won’t be officially approved by the state and announced until this time next year, the 2011-12 graduation rate for the Deer Isle-Stonington High School is on track to hit 83.3 percent.
The graduation rate is especially impressive given the high school’s 2008-09 graduation rate of 57.5 percent. Since then rates have steadily improved, to 75.4 percent in 2009-10 and 78.6 percent in 2010-11.
High school principal Todd West said in a recent interview underclassmen are on track to have graduation rates that could reach as high as 95 percent.
What has changed in the past few years? West said the school’s entire faculty and staff have come together to make an “authentic commitment to doing everything we can to insure that every student graduates.”
This has meant substantial commitment of time and resources to focusing on student learning, establishing a student progress tracking system, developing individualized plans for students who are struggling, offering support through a learning center and offering students who “barely fail” a chance for credit recovery.
First, teachers are encouraged to try new teaching strategies, but to make sure new efforts are having a positive impact. “If the old way is the better way for students, then we go back to the old way,” said West.
“All 17 teachers are working together to make sure all 141 students are on track,” said West. The teachers meet monthly as the Student Assistance Team to review student performance and progress in three areas: grades, attendance and discipline. Each student is placed on a level 0-3, with Level 0 representing “on track” for graduation, and Level 3 in serious danger of dropping out or failing classes.
The Student Assistance Team then draws up an individual-specific plan for each student who is struggling.
“We try to figure out why the student is struggling. Are they struggling with the fundamentals of geometry? Are their parents going through a divorce?” said West.
A plan is then drawn up during a meeting with the student, his or her parents, West, the student’s advisor and the teachers of any courses the student is struggling in. “It’s a team approach,” said West. The process has increased parent engagement, he continued.
Other elements in place to help students succeed include the Learning Center, which provides help to students before, during and after school. “Students have access to high-quality assistance no matter when their study hall is,” said West.
The credit recovery program also helps students who “barely fail” a course from having to repeat the whole course and fall behind. “If a student needs a 70 to pass, and received a 68, they really don’t need to take the whole class again; they need to demonstrate they have mastered the material they struggled with,” said West.
“Of course, if a student gets a 26 in a course, they need to retake the entire thing,” he added. “But credit recovery gives students a set amount of time with a specific goal to demonstrate mastery and receive credit.” This keeps some students from falling far behind, getting discouraged and dropping out, he continued.
The whole system is designed to make sure students can’t fall more than a month behind in terms of progress, said West.
West acknowledges the Student Assistance Team process is time-consuming. “It takes time to generate spreadsheets, track students, have all the meetings,” he said. “But we have prioritized this as our baseline, core job: to make sure students earn diplomas.
“We’ve embraced a philosophy that no student is going to fall through the cracks.”