Edward Little tackles graduation rates, one student at a time

Edward Little High School students from left, Caroline Snowe, 17, Alex Stratton, 17, and Derek Caron, 18, work on assignments during the &quotEL PM" credit recovery program that helps students graduate on time.
Jose Leiva/Sun Journal
Edward Little High School students from left, Caroline Snowe, 17, Alex Stratton, 17, and Derek Caron, 18, work on assignments during the "EL PM" credit recovery program that helps students graduate on time.
Posted Feb. 19, 2012, at 3:28 a.m.

AUBURN, Maine — Efforts to boost the number of Edward Little High School students who complete school in four years have paid off: 81 percent met that goal in 2011, up from 67 percent in 2010.

Superintendent Katy Grondin attributed the improvement to high school teachers and administrators focusing more on students at risk of not graduating.

“We set a burning platform of, ‘We have to make changes. This isn’t OK,’” Grondin said of the 2010 graduation rate. That year, 96 high school students dropped out, the third-highest rate in Maine. The number of dropouts fell to 51 in 2011.

“We tried to create a bigger net with smaller holes,” said Shelly Mogul, director of the Office of Learning and Teaching. The School Department created more ways to support students on individual levels.

“Sometimes, that doesn’t take more resources,” Grondin said. “It’s looking at current resources and working smarter.”

In the fall of 2010, guidance counselors came up with a list of students at risk of not graduating, Principal Jim Miller said.

“We sat down and said, ‘We’re going to get them there, find ways to do it,’” Miller said.

Miller met with each student individually. Teachers, guidance counselors and librarians kept tabs on them.

Obvious goals focus students

Last year, the school was in its second year of a new goal: 90 percent of each classroom would pass the course. It helped teachers focus on the kids who weren’t passing, Mogul said.

The goal created more conversations among teachers about individual students, led them to call parents more or to try to get more kids to complete makeup work

The goal also led to study labs in the library. With library use down because each student has a laptop, librarians began talking to teachers about who was absent, and what work individual students had to complete.

The 90 percent goal also led to the creation of math labs, which were made available every period this year.

“We were finding not a lot of students were coming back after school for help,” Math Department Chairwoman Valerie Ackley said. Math teachers decided to cut out one of their classes each day, slightly increasing the number of students in their remaining classes.

“Each teacher has five classes instead of six,” Ackley said. With the free period, all math teachers offer a lab where students can drop in for extra help with homework they don’t understand, practice before a test or complete makeup work.

“It has increased collaboration with the teachers,” Ackley said.

Use of the labs “is phenomenal,” she said. “We’re already seeing semester grades increase.”

Other efforts include “EL Connect,” a new program at the high school to help with homework, tutoring or community involvement.

And summer school for freshmen and seniors was restarted last year. For the first time, a second graduation ceremony for the Class of 2011 was held in the library in August.

“The numbers were small,” Grondin said. Only a few students decided to march. For the few who did, the principal “made it a big deal with caps and gowns,” she said.

Grondin said there’s more work to be done. Still critical is the school’s resource police officer, who knocks on doors to find out why absent students aren’t in school.

“A lot of times, it’s not a school issue; it’s a family issue,” Grondin said. Parents may be having trouble with drug or alcohol abuse, illness, poverty, “or they have to work three jobs, so they can’t monitor,” she said.

“They may say, ‘I sent them to school this morning,’” but those students never showed up, she said.

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