District seeks to change attitudes about education after high school

2017-06-16 | Clay Center Dispatch

June 14--The message that USD-379 needs to get across to its students, recent graduates and parents of those students and recent graduates is that if you don't go to college, you'll need to learn some other skill to be successful in life.

"What we're talking about here is USD-379 (students), but it's a lot bigger than that," principal Matt Weller said. "It's community, it's culture, it's really a paradigm shift for the way the community has to think as well."

In reviewing post-secondary data through the 'Kansas Can' initiative, Weller told board members Monday that the students who graduate from college will be "just fine" because the job market wants 71 percent of workers to have some kind of post-secondary degree or certification, and the state is falling short of that with only about 50 percent going to college after graduation.

"These kids for the most part, it doesn't matter what school they go to, they're going to be successful," Weller said of college-bound students. "They're going to go on and do good things."

The board talked about things they could do to help students succeed beyond high school and the thing's they're already doing that have started to turn the trend around, including,earlier intervention, ways to explore careers and testing that ensures students will be proficient in reading by the time they reach high school.

Those with just high school degrees need help

The district needs to turn it's attention to not just high school graduates, but also the students who don't pursue post-secondary education, and the college drop-outs too, Weller said.

There's not a lot the schools can do about the 10-15 percent of high-schoolers in the state who don't graduate high school, though the district's graduation rate is better than the state average of 84 percent.

The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) would like to see graduation rates increase to 95 percent in the state. The district isn't quite there at 92 percent, but they're not far from it either, Weller and Superintendent Mike Folks said.

However, it isn't just the drop-outs the district needs to be concerned about, Weller said. It's the 35 to 40 percent of the kids who graduate high school, but don't go on to some other kind of post secondary education. They're competing for jobs that don't require anything more than a high school degree, which only make up about 8 percent of the job market, or service-orientated that require no education.

"Those kids that don't get those jobs, what are they doing?" Weller asked, to which the board answered,"They're living in their parents' basement" or worse.

That's a trend parents need to change, Weller said.

That doesn't necessarily mean these 35 to 40 percent of high graduates have to go to college. Of the 71 percent of jobs on the market requiring post-secondary education, only about half of those require a four-year bachelor's degree or better. The other half is looking for employees with either a two-year associate's degree or certification in some kind of skill -- such as welding or a certified nurse's assistants.

Two-thirds of college-bound students don't graduate

Weller reviewed National Student Clearing House data obtained through KSDE which followed up and tracked how high graduates since 2010 are doing now. The data doesn't include information on military students or 3 percent of institutions that did not provide data or students directly entering the workforce.

In 2010, 62.4 percent of high school graduates in the state went on to pursue a post-secondary degree or other education. Another 23.4 percent of graduates aren't part of the National Clearing House percent and they presumably entered the work force or attempted to.

Six years later, about 39 percent of those students graduated with a degree or had some kind of certification. Of those that did not get a degree or certificate, about a fourth -- 26.6 percent are no longer enrolled in an institution.

"About two-thirds of them (didn't graduate)," Weller said, and the district is concerned about those students too, Weller said. "That's not a good number right there, when you're talking about we're already below if we need 71 percent (to complete post-secondary education) and six years later we have 39 percent of them (graduated), that's a concerning data. And that's what KSDE has told us, that's what we've got to improve on."

Local college success rate below average

In breaking down the data for USD-379, Weller said 55 percent of the Class of 2010 two years later were either in their second year of school or had graduated with a degree or certificate. Since 2010 graduates of USD-379 in their second year after graduating high school tended to follow this trend, except for 2012 and 2013 graduates, who had more success.

Generally speaking, while high school graduation rates were higher in USD-379 than the state average, the district had a lower success rate than the rest of the state for students staying in or completing college. When it came to students with degrees, certification or continuing to pursue a degree two years after high school, USD-379 was below average.

"Those numbers when we got them were concerning, obviously," Weller said.

The five-year success rate for students graduating with a degree or still pursuing one is 55 percent for the state, and only 46 percent in Clay County, Folks said.

"What we concluded is that in USD-379, we do a pretty good job of getting kids to graduate high school," Weller said. "But we're not doing a very good job of preparing kids for life after high school and getting through (college) and into the real world. We need to improve on that."

Folks said the district does a great job of preparing students for a four-year degree, and he's heard that kind of feedback from traditional colleges and institutions like Emporia State.

"But we have too many of our kids who don't understand they need a skill to be successful," he said. "They need a certificate, whether it's from a technical school, or a two-year, instead of just looking for 8 percent of the jobs (requiring only a high school degree).

Folks said the district sends too many kids to four-year schools because only about 25 percent of them are graduating with a four-year degree after four or five years.

"I really think we need to make kids understand you don't need that four year degree, ... but we need a whole bunch more of you to have a skill. You need to have a two year degree or a certificate of some kind, instead of saying, 'OK, I graduated high school, now I'm going to go out in the work force.'"

That's true of students who a four-year degree too, Folks said, recalling that about 40 percent of the students in his daughter's technical class already had a bachelors degree from K-State but needed a skill for the workforce.

Poverty contributes most to failure

When looking at why students fail after high school, Weller said the "cumulative poverty," that is, remaining in the free and reduced category year after year because of income was the "single biggest" factors students either did not pursue a degree after high school or didn't complete what they started.

"The longer they received that free and reduced lunches the greater the chance there is of not having that success we're talking about," Weller said. "It's really interesting how big cumulative poverty has on success."

About 44 percent of the district's population qualified for free and reduced lunches.

The study also found that ethnicity and race weren't significant factors -- but rather success stemmed from socioeconomic factors and social standing. Sometimes the poverty can span several generations.

Chronic absenteeism, and socioeconomic factors like number of parents in the household, no participation in extra-curricular activities, too can be traced back poverty.

At CCCHS, 53 percent of students come from single-parent or step-parent homes and of out of those, one-third of them were not involved an any activities.

"I know for 'Leader in Me,' that (extracurricular participation) is something we talked about," Weller said, adding the tell elementary students to "Go do something, go be great at something' because it gets real tough if you're not involved in anything."

One is seven high-schoolers has a high number of absentees -- more than 15 per school year, also contributes to failure later in life.

"By ninth-grade, regular and high attendance is a better predictor of graduation rates than eighth-grade test scores," Weller said. "If you show up, you're going to make it. If you don't there's a better chance you're not."

Board member Jeff Cannizzo said that's also true of jobs.

Students moving from one building to another for reasons other than promotion can also put kids behind and contribute to failure. Three or more moves can push a student one whole grade behind academically, Weller said.

Research also indicates that suspension and expulsion most affects students who remain in the classroom, and students who have a discipline record at school are more likely to be arrested later in life. Suspensions are going happen, Weller said, but the district should be proactive about mitigating the efforts.

Students who are learning English as a second language are more likely to graduate the earlier they become proficient in English, Weller said. Although the district doesn't have many of such students, they do any excellent job ensuring they become proficient, especially considering how small the district is, he said.

Disabilities can also be a factor, but these students graduate at a higher rate than students with cumulative poverty or are learning English as a second language. Twenty-two percent of district students receive special education services -- five percentage points higher than the state average.

A high rate of teacher turn-over can also contribute to student failure. In USD-379, 44 percent of teachers have either retired or moved onto another job and over half of that was in retirements alone.

District turning the trend around

Board member Jean Frigon said part of the issue of some people not continuing education beyond high school is economics and asked how they can them find ways to pay for it.

Curriculum director Jaclyn Pfizenmaier said the the counseling team at the high school level works with kids and their about financial aid while they're in high school, but the should probably start earlier than that.

"That planning and thought process needs to start earlier," Pfizenmaier said. "But it means getting our parents there, getting involved and trying to help."

One board member said parents need to think about saving earlier, but Pfizenmaier said the district needs to help those kids who aren't getting help from their parents, and the financial assistance and options that are available to them.

Board members also talked about how they can help students figure out what they want to do after high school. Folks and Frigon said the district's career pathways and "Career Cruising" and the middle school programs are aimed at doing that, but they could probably be doing more.

"We're doing a lot more than we did," Frigon said. "There are things we are doing and we need to connect it somehow and it's not totally the school's job."

Pfizenmaier said the counselor Nick Brummett at Garfield Elementary did a project with fourth- and fight-graders, asking them what they wanted to do after high school and what it would take to get there. A lot of kids picked a career, but the idea was to "just get them thinking about it," she said.

Those kinds of efforts could be the reason the district started to see the trend go the other way a few years ago, Folks said, but there's still a lot of kids who need guidance.

Weller said the district implementing multi-tierred systems of support (MTSS) by helping kids at different levels will help turn around the trend. The district started this seven years ago with elementary kids and two years ago with high schoolers.

Teacher good habits through "Leader In Me" will also help, as it ties directly into student success.

"(It says) everyone can be great at something and giving those leadership roles to every single kid in the building and not just certain kids and giving everyone a role so 'I have to be here because of it,'" Weller said.

The high school is pairing up students with a particular career interest with teachers who have similar interests during Student Improvement Time (SIT) in hope of motivating and making a good connection that will help those kids be successful, principal Bud Young said.

The district also plans to have teachers follow up with kids after they graduate, at least twice a year for a couple years after they graduate.

Individual plans of study, career cruising to garner interest in future careers, restructuring career days to involve community members and more careers, a 'senior send-off' program, having successful students return and speak and other ways to explore different careers are are in the district's plans, Young said, and the district will start these efforts starting in sixth grade.

There are also plans to involve the community in turning around the trend. That means changing the "culture and expectations of parents and grandparents and society about what their kids really need and what they can encourage them to do," Frigon said. "That influence is probably more than anything we can do."

"The biggest thing is, if we just try to fix it within the district, it's not going to happen," Weller said. "It has to be a paradigm shift in turns of community."