Applying pressure

Published 10:33 pm Friday, January 13, 2012

Principals set sights on graduation rates

Constant contact with parents, ninth-grade support classes, mentoring programs and special schedules are among the strategies Suffolk schools are using to improve on-time graduation.

With Virginia using graduation as a factor for school accreditation, Suffolk’s public high schools have added pressure to ensure students finish on time.

Both King’s Fork and Lakeland high schools missed the mark for state accreditation this year because of their graduation rates. As a result, the school division has put even more emphasis on the importance of improving grad rates and lowering dropout numbers.

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The principals from all three high schools discussed the steps they are taking to increase the number of students completing high school on time at Thursday’s School Board meeting.

King’s Fork principal Suzanne Moore said the school is implementing several programs and tools to increase graduation rates.

One measure is the school’s Freshmen Academy, which started two years ago.

“This is to target incoming ninth-graders that might be at risk to not graduate on time,” Moore said.

For the program, students attend a support class as an elective during their first year.

“The support class teaches them how to get organized, develop time management skills, and there is some remediation in there as well,” Moore said.

In its first year, 80 students from the class of 2013 attended the program, and 84 percent of them passed their Standards of Learning tests for ninth grade.

However, Moore said they need similar enrichment in 10th grade because the percentage of the Freshmen Academy students that passed their SOLs as sophomores dropped by four points.

“Eighty percent is not the number I would like to see,” she said.

King’s Fork is also using online credit recovery and mentoring programs to improve its graduation rate.

Also, Moore said, she meets with teachers every 20 days to discuss the needs of students receiving D’s and F’s.

Despite the programs, Moore said, attendance is a barrier to improving graduation rates because it’s impossible to force a student to come to school or to attend an enrichment program.

Like King’s Fork, Lakeland also missed state accreditation because of graduation rates, and principal Thomas Whitley told the School Board about the different things he is doing to fix the problem.

One of the school’s new strategies is implementing new schedules for at-risk freshmen that allow them to concentrate on four subjects per semester, seeing the same teachers and studying the same subjects each day.

Whitley said the program has had great results so far.

“We are experiencing a 95- to 98-percent success rate for students in the program,” he said.

Board member Phyllis Byrum said she thought the four-by-four schedule was intuitive.

“I commend you on your success,” she said. “I think that’s a great idea.”

Lakeland is also implementing “instructional flooding,” in which teachers team up in math classrooms to offer additional assistance to students.

Whitley said teachers do team-teaching instead of lunch or hall duty in order to not take them away from their own classrooms, and all the teachers volunteer.

In contrast to the other schools, Nansemond River principal Thomas McLemore is looking to build upon the success it has had for graduation and completion.

About 90 percent of Nansemond River’s seniors completed high school on time last year.

“One of the things we believe at Nansemond River is to include everyone involved with student success,” McLemore said.

He said the school strives to include all stakeholders in student achievement by having teachers, administrators and counselors keep in constant contact with parents.

“It’s buying them into what we are doing,” McLemore said. “They are part of the solution.”

The board members commended all of the principals on the programs and strategies they are using to meet the goal of increasing on-time graduation.