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High School Initiatives Help Improve Graduation Rates

Fayette Public Schools 02 300LEXINGTON, Ky. (6/18/13) – The latest Kentucky graduation rates were some of the most improved in the nation, according to a recent report in Education Week, which is a positive sign for Lexington educators who’ve launched special initiatives to help get more students in a cap and gown.

The graduation rate in the state moved from 63.7 percent for the class of 2000 to 77.2 percent for the class of 2010 (the latest data available), an increase of 13.5 points and the third most improved among all states.

Vicki Ritchie is the director of public high schools for Fayette County. As a former principal of Lafayette High School, she's had first hand experience in working with students to get them ready for graduation. She said Fayette County works really hard to set high expectations.

“We understand in order to get kids college and career ready, and that means lots of different things to lots of different kids, we have to individualize our education,” she said. “That personalization is the shift that's been happening over a period of time and is going to continue happening in the future.”

Ideally all stakeholders in a student’s life should be actively involved in his or her education in order to achieve the best results.

“There's family engagement, there's community engagement, there's faculty engagement, and of course, there's student engagement,” said Ritchie.

Ritchie said the schools measure college readiness primarily through ACT benchmarks and end-of-course exams. Career readiness is determined in part through career pathway courses that consist of a series of three classes either offered in the high schools or at technical centers.

The career pathways include nutrition, nursing, culinary arts, and education. Some schools offer industry certificates in areas such as welding and nursing.

Ritchie said the district has made an effort to put students in the most difficult classes they can take.

“We want to challenge kids to their highest potential, to their highest level,” she said. “So, we've put a big emphasis on offering students engaging classes.”

Schools are now offering more AP courses, which are comparable to college-level courses and give students an opportunity to receive college credit after an end-of course assessment. Also, through partnerships with various colleges, schools are offering dual-credit courses that can give students credit in high school as well as in college.

Paul Laurence Dunbar Principal Betsy Rains said her school has implemented a plan known as the Learning Connection Program to help students behind in their academics to catch up with their classmates.

“It's a program for kids who are disengaged, they’re unmotivated, they might not have the support they need outside of school,” she said. “They might be just unmotivated but very capable.”

Rains said every student in the program is one to three years behind in school. She said the program helps students recover the credits they need to graduate.

“We get them involved in mentoring, and we take them out and have them do some job shadowing,” she said. “We take them on field trips and have them do team building. We take them to colleges and universities and let them see what their options are.”

The program is now in its third year, and Rains said of the 70 students involved this year, 35 graduated. These students were not classified as seniors prior to entering the program. Rains added that Dunbar is a customer service school, meaning teachers will do home visits in order to develop a more personal relationship.

“Whatever the grade level is, we relate the visit to that. That has been very successful,” she said. “It's kind of eased parents’ minds so they know what is coming up in the year and it makes our teachers more approachable. We want everyone to feel welcome to come volunteer and come and share with us ways we can help.”

Rains said Dunbar's initiatives were actually not established to improve graduation rates, but to improve the lives of the students.

“I knew that we had kids who were sitting in class in the back of the room hiding,” she said. “They're capable, they're very smart, they're intelligent, but they don't have any encouragement. They're just being overlooked because they're not a behavior problem. They're just there. We just know these kids are there and they need our help. That's what we're here to do.”

David Gillum
SurfKY News

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