High graduation rate a priority in Pasco

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 22, 2013 

Pasco School District administrators said they are committed to seeing every high school student receive a diploma, though new state calculation methods have lowered the district's graduation rate.

About 71 percent of the district's seniors graduated in 2012, more than 10 percentage points less than what the rate would have been under the old formula, said Superintendent Saundra Hill during a Pasco School Board work session Tuesday. Graduation rates for 2013 are not yet available.

Despite the change, she and the district's high school principals said a lot of progress has been made to get students to graduate. New ideas to further improve the rate are in the pipeline to show students the importance of education.

"This is larger than any one high school," said Brian Leavitt, principal at New Horizons High School.

The state previously calculated graduation rates through an estimate based on how many students dropped out of a school in a given year. Federal mandates required the state to begin a new system where students are monitored as soon as they enter the ninth grade, leading to classes being tracked on a four-year and five-year basis.

Pasco previously had on-time graduation rates as low as 49 percent under the old system dating back to 2005, but was at or above state averages the last few years.

Hill said graduation rates for the district's demographics also were beating state averages, even hitting 100 percent in categories such as English language learners and special education when it came to students graduating after more than four years.

Hill said the new graduation rates are more accurate. Pasco's black, Hispanic and low-income students also still have higher graduation rates than state averages for those same demographics.

"I think you can see the work is paying off," she said.

Regardless, principals said they and their staffs put a lot of work into keeping students engaged.

Each class of students at Pasco and Chiawana high schools is tracked by a team of educators. If a student falls behind or drops out, staff seek them out and try to identify the best way to get that student to graduation, whether it be Saturday school or an online program.

"There's not one (option) that fits everybody," said Chiawana High Principal John Wallwork.

But the principals said they can't stop there. Pasco High Assistant Principal Cathey Bolson said her school is looking at programs targeted specifically at freshmen and sophomores who are struggling or behind.

Leavitt said he thinks there should be a district team focused on dropout prevention and recovery. New Horizons also is looking at changing its calendar to provide for shorter terms and improving student access to technology. It also is critical to involve parents, who can make sure their student shows up to class and takes time to study at home.

"This is all about creating options," he said.

Board members said they were pleased with the work the principals and other administrators have done.

"For every kid it's something different, and I appreciate you have all these options," said board President Sherry Lancon.

w Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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