OSD celebrates high on-time graduation rate

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OSD celebrates high on-time graduation rate
Avanti High School students at 2019 graduationThe Olympia School District’s graduation rate for the Class of 2019 reached 91.1%, ranking it among the highest on-time graduation rates in school district history. The percent of students who graduated in five years also climbed at several high schools and contributed to an overall district extended graduate rate of 92.5%.

Many programs contribute to this huge achievement for our district. High School and Beyond Plans facilitated by our Career Center Counselors, have aided in these rising stats. Opportunity Time each week has provided students additional time with their teachers, allowing the students to revisit instruction, ask additional questions and take exams. Restorative Practices have reduced student suspensions and have kept students engaged in their instruction.

Lauri Klancke, executive director of K-12 Teaching and Learning, says, “This is definitely a team effort from elementary through high school. Our teams are working hard to ensure no student falls through the cracks.” Although our programs contribute to these successes, it is our staff who implement them, leading the way to success for our students. Mick Hart, executive director of secondary education, shares the heart behind these programs, saying, “Finding ways to reach students and provide opportunities for them to access instruction, services and a safe place to share their own life struggles has given students in the Olympia School District a place to feel success.”

CHS Career CenterSuperintendent Patrick Murphy is also thrilled by this rise in the graduation rate. “We are happy to see among the highest on-time graduation rates in the history of the Olympia School District. This is a reflection, not only of the hard work of our students and support of their families, but also of the efforts of all of our teachers and staff, preschool through high school.”

Klancke credits this rise in the graduation rate to several factors and recent changes in programs. “We changed our Summer School program this past summer, which included the ability for students to take science for credit retrieval, which hasn't been possible in the past due to the online learning platform we were using. This accounted for one student being able to graduate on time and eight students being able to get back on track with their science credits recovered.”

Celeste Waltermeyer, Olympia Regional Learning Academy principal, says, “The district does an excellent job of supporting and offering alternative programs for students who want or need a different path to graduation.” In 2018, ORLA’s on-time grad rate was 52.2%. In 2019, that number rose to 64.7%.

Avanti High School Principal Michael Velasquez shares one of these success stories. During the 2018-19 school year, an Avanti senior was fairly sure he would need to return the following year to complete his graduation requirements. Near the end of the school year, the student was offered a full-time job. This sparked a newfound enthusiasm for his studies. “He told his teachers he wanted to graduate that year. The teachers sat down together and strategized. Between their dedication and his hard work, they made it possible for him to graduate his senior year,” Velasquez says.

Within the span of about two weeks, the student worked hard to accomplish his goal and graduated his senior year. Avanti High School also collectively celebrated another major accomplishment for their school. In 2018, Avanti High School’s on-time graduation rate was 66.7%. In 2019, the graduation rate jumped to 77.3%. Velasquez gives credit for the high graduation rate to the positive atmosphere of his school. “The grad rate is a statistical representation of the important contributions of each person who has a positive and meaningful interaction with each student throughout their day. Higher graduation rates reflect a collective district accomplishment. When students feel like they belong and that someone cares about them, anything is possible.”

OSD Summer School student hard at workOlympia High School Principal Matt Grant says he has seen his students overcome a variety of challenges, from extreme poverty to persevering through learning challenges. “I consider these comeback stories to be amongst the most rewarding experiences in my role as principal,” Grant says. Olympia High School celebrated an increase in its on-time graduation rate from 89% in 2018 to 92% in 2019.

Not only do teachers heavily contribute to the success of our students; graduation specialists and counselors are critical as well. “They play a key role in helping our students who need extra support to stay engaged and on target,” Klancke says.

Nicole Sande, a graduation specialist at Capital High School, gives credit to her colleagues. “We have such an amazing team at CHS. Our teachers, counselors and assistant principals work tirelessly to provide every opportunity imaginable to meet our kids where they are. I'm so thankful for their efforts and I feel really blessed to work alongside them,” she says.

Graduation Specialist Jackie Robinson is in his first year in the role at Olympia High School. “It was so inspiring seeing the students and staff work so hard at a common goal of graduating. The love and support that is shown at this school is far and above any that I have ever witnessed. I know they say it takes a village to raise a child, and here at OHS I feel we live that out.”

For other students, discovering they can attend college is the spark they need to succeed. Sande shares the story of a Capital High School student who decided he would succeed. Once he realized that college was an option, he got back on track for graduation and increased his grade point average. He has accomplished his goal of attending college and is taking courses at South Puget Sound Community College. “At Capital High School we not only were able to help this student graduate, but helped him with his future plans,” says Sande.

Principal Curtis Cleveringa also praises Capital High School, saying, “I'm enamored with how our staff has created such high expectations for themselves and our students. This didn't happen overnight. Our staff has a long history of high expectations. The culture of Capital High School has everything to do with these rates. Very simply put, we find a way.”

For our students, graduation is not the final chapter in their education and successes. Superintendent Murphy says, “We know that graduating from high school should not be the end of our graduate's learning, especially in today's world of constant adaptation and change. Post-secondary learning, whether it is in the trades, the military, or higher education is essential for our future workforce. However, graduating from high school is a critical step in our students’ path toward a lifetime of learning. Outcome 5 of the district's Student Outcomes says that our students will discover their passions, be curious and love learning. We want them to seek out new opportunities, explore new ideas, especially those that may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable in order to find their interests. That is not just an outcome for while our students are in our schools, but for their lifetimes. Graduating is the launchpad to that discovery.”

Klancke looks forward to enhancing the goal of an increased graduation rate in upcoming years. She is glad we are not only celebrating our record-high graduation rate but are looking to help the students in that percentile who are not graduating. “We are asking ourselves, ‘What can we do, specifically, for those students to help them get across the stage?’ We can only do that when we put names to the numbers and learn our students’ stories and needs. When we do this, we will get even closer to the 100% goal.”