Cape grad rate tops 80 percent

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Early in the summer, Cape Girardeau School District officials predicted a rise in graduation rates. Last week, numbers released showed their prediction came true. The district's graduation rate, computed using a traditional method, reached above 80 percent for the first time since 2006.

Another rate, which shows the percentage of students who graduated "on time," or in four years or less with their class, also hit above 80 percent, up from 67.5 percent in 2011.

Both percentages were significantly lower than rates reported by other districts in the region of the same size with similar or more challenging student demographic populations.

Cape Girardeau Central High School principal Mike Cowan in June called the class of 2012 an "especially good group of kids," and said he anticipated components of a student achievement model used at the high school since that class's freshman year would have a positive effect on how many remained on track to graduate and later do so.

Officials aren't sure right now exactly what caused the rise in rates, but they say they are happy with the improvement. They also acknowledge the rates are not as high as they should be.

"This is good news, but at the same time we need to be sure we are doing all we can to get all students graduated," superintendent Jim Welker said.

Welker said he believes the new rates indicate a trend of students on track to graduate and credits the student achievement model, as well as the United Way of Southeast Missouri, for helping begin that trend.

The students in the class of 2012 were the first to be subject to professional learning communities, a model that promotes student achievement and good behavior. High school administrators showed the school board over the summer where the model was seemingly affecting the number of students on track for graduation. Data presented showed 73 freshmen off track in the second semester of the 2007-2008 school year and 20 percent of students failing courses. In the most recent school year, the number of off-track freshmen had dropped to 18 and only 10 percent were failing courses.

Freshman class interventions included an expanded orientation at the start of the year and an addition of the "Preparing for Academic Success" class for that grade to teach good habits for studying and time management. More teacher collaboration has been ongoing schoolwide, a credit recovery program at the alternative school has been implemented and several other measures have also been put in place.

Cowan said administrators waited a long time for affirmation that the model interventions would work and, with the new rates, there finally seems to be some proof.

Paul Nenninger, a member of the school board who questioned administrators about the effectiveness of professional learning communities over the summer, said the district deserves to celebrate the rise in rates, but that for the model to make a real effect it needs to operate in each building for several years.

Administrators have said such an implementation is planned, with first steps in other buildings starting this year, but that the process takes several years.

In 2009, the United Way formed a committee that looked for ways to improve local educational outcomes and set a goal to boost the district's graduation rate to 90 percent by 2019. Nancy Jernigan, executive director of the United Way, said the committee's work helped bring the graduation rate problem to light in the community.

The United Way also sponsored hiring a parent liaison to work in the high school for the first time during the 2011-2012 school year. A parent liaison also works in Central Junior High School.

During the past school year, the high school's liaison worked with 197 students, 27 of which were seniors and identified by school counseling staff as "at-risk," Jernigan said, on issues like failing grades, lack of attendance and behavior problems. Twenty-one of those 27 students went on to graduate.

"Maybe they would not have otherwise," Jernigan said. "We really think the parent liaison made a difference."

The liaison was the go-between for the school and parents of at-risk students.

"I'm very excited," Jernigan said. "I am hoping this is just the first year of several where we are going to see things get better and better."

The United Way's next big push for helping the district improve student outcomes has to do with mentoring, Jernigan said, which is more prominent in the district's junior high and middle school levels.

The high school parent liaison will work closely with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri this school year to match more high school students with mentors, said Ashley Beggs, executive director.

"Now that the United Way has parent liaisons in schools, we are looking to extend this opportunity to high school students if they want to do that," Beggs said.

District staff also attended conferences in the past several months to learn strategies for dropout prevention. Cowan said recently that the high school is also working toward identifying at-risk students earlier through the use of student surveys.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

1000 S. Silver Springs Road, Cape Girardeau, MO

Graduation rates, Cape Girardeau School District

Traditional "leaver" calculation method

2011 76.9 percent

2012 80.6 percent

Four-year adjusted cohort calculation method

2011 67.5 percent

2012 80.6 percent

Map of pertinent addresses

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