This month I want to tell you about a young man named Heartstone, a student at Hudson’s Bay High School. Like many seniors, Heartstone’s got graduation on the brain.
But Heartstone’s educational journey is unique. Last year he spent a few months at the Washington Youth Academy, an intervention program for students who are at risk of dropping out.
“It was pretty challenging, but it was worth it at the end.”
Helping him were his family and friends, who wrote letters of encouragement. Hudson’s Bay staff also lifted his spirits. Principal Val Seeley sent notes wishing him well and offering her support. Associate Principal Darby Meade, Heartstone’s advocate, visited him regularly.
Heartstone came back to VPS in the fall. Now this senior is splitting his time between Vancouver Virtual Learning Academy and Hudson’s Bay. He plans to return to Bay next semester and hopes to graduate in the spring. He wants to join the Marine Corps after high school and maybe study criminal justice after that.
“It feels like I have more options now. Before I kind of felt limited. If I was going to graduate high school, I didn’t know what I was going to do. Now it’s like I’ve got more options.”
It’s clear that Heartstone has grit. His is the kind of perseverance we encourage in all our students, and I hope it carries him through to commencement. Good luck, Heartstone. We’re all rooting for you.
Heartstone isn’t the only one focused on graduation though. At Hudson’s Bay, a school-wide effort to improve has pushed up graduation rates, especially among African-American and Latino students. The graduation effort has many moving parts, according to Principal Seeley:
“First it’s the hard work of the staff. We’re looking at our F rates, seeing, where are they struggling? Where are they successful? How do we help them in those areas that they’re struggling in? A lot of it is, how do we make their freshman year better? A lot of the research shows that freshman year is pivotal.”
Staff training on how to better serve English language learners and pairing struggling students with advocates make a difference, too. The effort also is about asking students to encourage their friends and promoting an accepting, supporting culture.
Graduation rates also are improving across the district. We are now in our fourth year of implementing on-time graduation efforts. We use specific measurements, called key performance indicators, to gauge our progress beginning with our kindergarteners. Programs for support and credit recovery and alternative education options in and outside the district also are key to our strategy.
As a result, our on-time graduation rate has increased from 64 percent in 2010 to a forecasted rate of nearly 80 percent for 2015. The five-year graduation rate is expected to exceed 80 percent. And we’re outpacing the state average. Over the past three years, the district’s extended graduation rate has improved by nearly four percentage points, while the state’s rate has risen by 0.6 percent.
I believe that these successes are a result of everyone’s contributions, including students and staff members. And since this month is National Principals’ Month, I want to give a special shoutout to these leaders, who are integral not only to graduation rates but also to the forward movement of our district. Our principals and associate principals are people of integrity and excellence. They take risks and empower students and families. They make a continuous commitment to their own learning. They are among the finest principals you’ll find anywhere in the nation.
Thank you to them, and thank you to the entire VPS staff. I am proud to call you my colleagues.