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This school year, Provo City School District is placing a large focus on increasing graduation rates across the district. This is a team effort and involves employees at all locations and levels of the district. Superintendent Keith Rittel recently discussed this important emphasis and provided some insight into the work that has gone on thus far.
Graduation is the culmination of 12-13 years of public education. From the time a student begins kindergarten to the time they are seniors in high school, the work put forth by students, teachers, and administrators is done to culminate in graduation. While this has always been the case, the tracking process through each grade level has been inconsistent in the past. According to Superintendent Rittel, “I don’t think that we have done a poorer job than our neighbors in terms of educating our students, but we have been doing an insufficient job in terms of tracking and following up. So our goal is that we actively know and work with every student to cross the finish line of graduation.”
We live in a valley with two other districts that are much larger than Provo City School District, and there are significant demographic differences among the three districts. However, for Superintendent Rittel, whatever difference exists is no excuse for any kind of academic shortfall. “We need to at least be competitive in our graduation rates with our neighboring districts, but for the last little while we have not been. We should always be actively committed to the goal of 100% graduation.”
So how will the district accomplish this?
Tracking Each Student
In the past, the work to identify students who may be behind with their graduation requirements would begin around March. The district is now beginning that process as early as September.
According to Superintendent Rittel, the district “hasn’t gone into the detail of following up with every kid before they leave the system, really pushing them to finish. We had a number of students that were a quarter credit away from graduation. We need to identify them early and work with them to get them across the finish line.”
Provo City School District was the only district in the valley that did not award D grades. That essentially meant that any student receiving a grade below a C was failing and not receiving credit. With support from the Provo City School District Board of Education, this practice has now been changed.
Independence High School
The district recently implemented a behavioral policy change at Independence High School. Behavior issues will now be handled at each student’s respective high school and Independence High School is focused on work and learning. Independence High School is a unique setting meant to provide an academic “shot in the arm.” Academic standards have increased at Independence and the focus of the school is on helping students accomplish graduation rather than just on correcting behavior.
Graduation is not just a high school issue. Once a student enters our system, the clock for graduation begins ticking. As such, the district is ensuring that everyone can do something to contribute to the goal of graduation.
The district adopted the AIM statement of “Every student will end each school year having met or exceeded the essential learning standards, fully prepared for the next grade/course.” At the elementary level, this statement is the focus of each counselor, teacher and administrator. “If we don’t track student progress all the way through, how do we know students will attain graduation? And what are we doing about the students not on track to meet grade level standards?” said Rittel. “We are working to get every kid to standard at the end of the respective grade and course. This is what every teacher can do and this is what every elementary and middle school principal can do. If we do this all the way through 12 grades, we accomplish a stellar graduation rate.”
This is being accomplished by asking each elementary school to set up a timeline of milestones. These milestones will look at where students are now and who is off track to pass a grade level by the end of the year.
As Superintendent Rittel has mentioned before, simply looking at this information in March is too late. “If we can do this at least monthly and, preferably bi-weekly, then we can apply the proper interventions to the students to get them back up to the level where they should be. Imagine if we do this from kindergarten. A small gap will remain small or decrease in size through the years; whereas if we do nothing, a small gap will become an insurmountably large chasm over the years.”
In his first year in Provo City School District, Superintendent Rittel began implementing changes to the district’s tracking systems and follow-up procedures. Gradually, these changes have been implemented. The district now has board goals addressing graduation. The school board and senior administration is committed. Principals can see their part in the process. Everyone in the system can contribute to accomplishing graduation for all of our students.
Superintendent Rittel summarizes, “I think we have now clearly defined what every single person in the district can do. I hope and expect each person to do their part. If they do, the overall impact on student achievement and graduation will be mammoth. That is our goal. It can’t be our goal to say, ‘I am going to educate you for 12 or 13 years but I am indifferent about graduation.’ Graduation is a gateway. We are trying to impact not just their academic lives, but their ability to have a good productive life and family and on and on and on. It is much more far-reaching than saying, ‘we want to get them to graduate just for the sake of graduation.’ It’s our goal, but it is also what they need to be able to thrive in our society. So we are getting after it. We cannot let students fall through the cracks.”