Report cards from the Oregon Department of Education have tracked Seaside School District’s graduation rate as it has slowly increased in line with the district’s concerted effort to improve attendance, engage students and help them prepare for the next stage of life.

According to the education department’s at-a-glance school and district profiles, produced statewide on a yearly basis, Seaside’s on-time graduation rate was 77% for the 2019-20 school year — up from 73% in 2018-29 and 67% in 2017-28.

“I’m glad to see these upward trends,” Seaside Superintendent Susan Penrod said.

Data for the profiles comes from a variety of sources, including state testing results, annual student enrollment collections and self-reporting by the districts.

The profiles are designed to engage and inform families about their school’s approach to learning; academic and extracurricular offerings; and student performance. Reports also serve as a tool for continuous improvement planning by local and state policymakers, in conjunction with the communities they serve.

Normally, the at-a-glance profiles include results from student assessments in categories such as mathematics and English language arts, as well as individual student progress.

The snapshots looked a little different this year, Penrod said, because statewide standardized testing didn’t happen in the spring, as it normally does, because of the coronavirus pandemic and a transition to distance learning.

“A secure testing environment for standardized tests can’t take place when kids aren’t in the building,” Penrod said.

That doesn’t mean the district isn’t doing its own assessments. According to Penrod, they are exploring different ways to assess students in order “to measure our goals and to continue with instructional improvement.”

Attendance

One of the district’s long-term goals as per its five-year strategic plan — which was fully implemented during the 2019-20 school year — is that by June 2024, all students will be on track to graduate and be prepared with a plan beyond high school. To start, Penrod hopes to see the district matching statewide rates, which were 80% for on-time graduation and 86% for five-year completion in 2019-20.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there,” Penrod said.

Data from the report cards provides a starting point for the district to evaluate differences among demographics and identify how the schools can work more closely with individual students to meet their needs.

For example, there is a noticeable disparity when it comes to the on-time graduation rates of different student groups. According to the report card, the graduation rate last year was 71% for Hispanic/Latinx students; 80% for white students; 72% for students who receive free or reduced-price lunch; 74% for Ever English Learners; and 55% for students with disabilities.

Absenteeism is another major issue tied in with the district’s graduation rate and strategic plan. Jason Boyd, Seaside High School assistant principal, has taken the reins in that area over the past few years, implementing a variety of initiatives at individual, school, district and communitywide levels to improve attendance.

In addition to his efforts, Penrod also attributed the district’s gradually improving graduation rates to several other factors, such as the ninth-grade initiative program; extracurriculars; and career and technical education offerings.

“Everybody needs their hook to help them be interested in school,” Penrod said, adding that having different options helps students “find their interests, find their niche.”

She said district leadership is exploring how to advance their goals for attendance and on-time graduation in a time of distance learning.

“Just because COVID is here and we’ve had to make adjustments does not mean our strategic plan goes on the wayside, but we just look at ways to adapt,” she said.

Diversity and inclusion

Another noticeable statistic from the state report card is the racial diversity of teachers compared to students. Across the district’s five schools, which had an overall enrollment of 1,618 in 2019-20, 96% of teachers were white, compared to 66% of students. While Hispanic/Latinx students comprise 28% of the student body, only 2% of teachers identify as such.

“It’s a huge goal of ours to increase diversity in our staff,” Penrod said. “I know our district has been working on that for years.”

To bridge the gap, the district has consulted with Consejo Hispano, formerly the Lower Columbia Hispanic Council, to get input on written messaging for families, or when reaching out to the community, to ensure the voices of Hispanic and Latinx students and families are heard. Consejo Hispano has “a pulse on what’s happening in the community,” Penrod said.

When she and other district staff members conducted community engagement to get feedback on how to allocate Student Success Act funding, representatives from the nonprofit organization provided support during parent interviews. Similarly, when the district was working on its operational blueprints for reopening, two members of the organization served on the community task force, along with three parents who are Latinx or Hispanic.

One of Penrod’s long-term goals is to establish a grow your own program, a concept that is gaining traction and support through grants. In her vision, the program would involve partnering with colleges to support students of color who plan to become educators so they could start gaining experience in high school. With all grade levels being together on the new campus, high schoolers could intern while instructing younger students and earn college credits.

If they make a commitment to come back and teach in the district after college, students would also be eligible to earn some scholarships to help pay for their higher education.

Another aspect of a grow your own program could involve providing financial support to existing staff members, such as instructional assistants, which would enable them to get their teaching licenses.

“The bonus of that is we have individuals who love to be here, who’ve grown up here or who already live and work here and have a desire and love to be teachers, coming back and working in the schools they grew up in,” Penrod said. “I’m really hoping that in the near future, we could start something like that.”

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