Valley schools are bouncing back.
After years of torturous budget cuts during the Great Recession that took its toll on children by slashing the services and classes they need to succeed, the Valley and the state are responding to replenished funding, according to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.
Last week superintendents in Valley school districts had smiley face emoticons on their report cards, with graduation rates up and dropout rates down.
This was one grading period that showed the Valley standing tall alongside its colleagues, as the whole state showed improvement. The state increased 1.3 percentage points to 82.3 percent in 2014-15 compared to 81.0 percent in the 2013-14 school year. The statewide dropout rate declined from 11.5 percent to 10.7 percent.
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Students attending Fresno Unified, leaking millions to solve its legal problems over construction contracts, showed an increase in the graduation rate from 79.3 percent in the 2013-14 school year to 83.8 percent, according to Superintendent Michael Hanson.
“Every one of our comprehensive high schools improved their standing, every single one,” he said during a news conference.
We offer a hearty “You’ve got this!*” with an asterisk, since schools are famous for jacked-up statistics on dropouts. For what we know now, it seems the Valley is doing a better job of leading some of the nation’s neediest children to the Promised Land – a good job, which begins with a high school diploma.
It is also heartening that subgroups of students – including Hispanic, Asian and African American – showed improvement as well. Reporter Barbara Anderson writes, for example, that Hispanic students’ graduation rates increased to 82.3 percent, a 10.8 percent increase over four years. Asian students’ rates increased to 90.9 percent, a 9.9 percent increase; and African American students’ rates rose to 82.1 percent, a 15.2 percent increase.
Fresno Unified far surpassed state results, where graduation rates for Hispanic students increased 1.9 percentage points to 78.5 percent. For African American students, the graduation rate increased 2.6 points to 70.8 percent.
Student success is part of the formula, and that makes sense. Counselors have been added to coach the students, summer school classes were added to give struggling students a second swing at the classes that gave them trouble. More rigorous course offerings were added to the schedule. The district went from 6,000 students in summer school to 18,000 students. That definitely proves the demand is there – and, unsurprisingly, teachers appeared when they were given a pay incentive to teach summer classes.
Other Valley schools used the Local Control Funding Formula to meet their own unique needs. Clovis created transition teams of teachers and staff to help create a scaffold of support for struggling students that includes working with parents, monitoring attendance and encouraging involvement in school activities. The new Common Core curriculum was helpful in Hanford and Madera. Central Unified used tutoring, intervention classes and personalized learning to help their rates increase.
Visalia Unified focused on school culture, giving students a sense of belonging. Sanger Unified also reported success with strategies that help students connect with their schools.
No one knows better than the Valley’s schools that there is a long way to go, but it is important to take a moment to celebrate our progress before we put a twist on the popular posters: “Keep calm and graduate!”