Putting more in caps and gowns

“Pomp and Circumstance” and the caps and gowns are still five months away, but more seniors in Everett and other school districts in Snohomish County should expect to get their diplomas this June, if the graduation trends of the last five years continue.

State numbers for 2015 graduation rates for all school districts aren’t expected until February, but Everett School District has shared its preliminary numbers from last June. Since 2011, when 82.4 percent of Everett seniors graduated in four years, its rate has climbed significantly in the last three years to 84.4 percent in 2013, 89.3 percent in 2014 and 90.2 percent for 2015. Figure in those who took five years to graduate and the number climbs to 94.5 percent last year.

That compares to a recently announced nationwide graduation rate of 82 percent for 2014’s graduates, and a statewide rate of 78 percent. Other districts in the county reported graduation rates for the Class of 2014 ranging from percentages in the mid-60s to high-80s.

Recognizing that each school district in the county faces different challenges with their local economies, their tax base, bond and levy support, poverty rates and other factors, the Everett School District is relying on a program of individualized attention that has pushed its graduation rate past the 90 percent mark.

“It’s taken a concerted effort to break that 90 and keep going,” said Everett High School Principal Sally Lancaster.

Teams that include counseling staff, success coordinators, paraeducators, classified staff, teachers and others across the community are involved in working with each student, from high achievers to those at risk. Members of those teams meet district-wide at each high-school, discussing progress and brainstorming new methods of reaching kids.

Of the more than 300 seniors at Everett High School, about 80 percent are in the green zone, considered well on their way to a diploma and are receiving support as they prepare for college.

Another 10 percent are in the yellow zone: equipped, prepared and supported toward their graduation but with no room for error in terms of significant missed attendance or issues involving health or moves in and out of schools.

The final 10 percent in the red zone are those with significant barriers to graduation, including homelessness, mental health and substance abuse issues, family turmoil or those who otherwise are good students but are struggling to learn to read and write English as a second language.

Lancaster said the attention is tailored to each student. “Green” students can get assistance with filling out financial assistance forms for college. “Yellow” students get tutoring or summer school to catch up after a difficult junior year. For those in the “red” zone, “search and rescue teams” track down absentee students to identify their issues and get them back in the classroom. Likewise, Sea Mar Community Health Center counselors also work with students who struggle with mental health concerns.

While the goal of reaching a 100 percent graduation rate remains, it will be next to impossible to reach, Lancaster and others in the district admit. Even those students who complete a GED or have obtained an associate of arts degree at a community college but never earned their high school diploma, aren’t counted as having graduated. Likewise, special education students who are allowed to continue in education programs until they are 21, regardless of the standards they meet, aren’t counted in the four- and five-year rates.

The Everett district is sharing its practices and strategies with other school districts, but some of that success can be credited to voter support of its levies, as well as a strong local economy and tax base.

Its success strengthens the call for the Legislature to reform an education funding system that relies too heavily on local school levies to fund a significant portion of salaries for teachers and other school staff. As the state takes on that responsibility, it will allow school districts to use local levies to support programs that replicate the results Everett has shown with its graduation rates, resulting in more caps, gowns and diplomas all around.

Correction: An earlier version of this editorial gave an incorrect figure for the 2015 preliminary four-year graduation rate for Everett School District. The figure, 90.2 percent, is correct.

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