Fremont Public Schools is still below the state average in its graduation rate, but officials say they are only a handful of students shy from meeting that average, as well as the Board of Education’s goal of 90 percent.
At the Fremont Public Schools Board of Education’s most recent meeting, officials discussed the challenges of improving graduation rates — and some of the district’s efforts to address those challenges.
In 2017, Fremont Public Schools saw a graduation rate of 84.78 percent, down from 2016’s 86.77 percent and below the 2017 state average of 89.27 percent, according to numbers presented at the Nov. 12 meeting.
Among the biggest challenges to graduation rates is an increasing number of students who are entering the school district for the first time at the high school level, with histories of limited or interrupted formal education, which can put them behind.
These students may struggle with language barriers — the percentage of English Language Learners in the district has risen from 10 percent to 12 percent between 2015 and 2017, and sits above the state average of 7 percent — or they may simply be struggling to catch up after missing several years of formal education.
When the graduation rates of cohorts of students are looked at beyond the basic four-year span of a high school education, expanding to look at students who may graduate in five, six or even seven years, the numbers inch up closer to average, argued Vernon Golladay, assistant principal at Fremont High School. That suggests that some Fremont students just need more time to fulfill their graduation requirements.
“As a fifth-year, we get closer to those state averages,” Golladay told the board. “Even though we want our kids to graduate in four years, lots of times because of the circumstances that we have, we have kids that have to stay a little longer, and really our real goal is to make sure that they graduate.”
In 2016, for instance, the four-year graduation rate was 86.48 percent compared to the state average of 89.27 percent. But when extended out to five years, that gap shrinks, with Fremont’s graduation rate at 89.43 percent and the state average at 91.32 percent.
There are several newer initiatives that school officials believe could help address some concerns regarding graduation rates. Last year, the district initiated a Newcomer Program that acts as a separate academic path for students who are struggling with language barriers — often students who are recent immigrants with histories of interrupted education.
“Before we were throwing those kids in the classroom, and they were coming through and the language barrier was so tough for kids that they weren’t having success,” Golladay said. “So we tried to do that a different way and really be more intensive with our math and English and then when they’re able to then be able to put them out in more of a gradual release.”
Additionally, Superintendent Mark Shepard argued that a recently announced scholarship program with Midland University, which will award scholarship amounts based on ACT scores and GPA to Fremont grads, will help drive student success.
“We really believe that the Midland Scholarship is going to help us meet those marks because suddenly it’s placing a higher stake and actual dollars—and you can see them in black and white—on ACT score and GPA,” Shepard said.
Fremont Public Schools follows a three-tiered approach to addressing students who may need extra services to help them succeed.
Tier one practices are programs that are available to all students, while tier two practices are more targeted and more intensive, like the English Language Learners Program or Summer School. Tier three is even more intensive interventions, like special education or enrollment in the Fremont Learning Center, which provides a more individualized education to students who may be struggling with personal barriers, missed class time or other situations that necessitate an alternative learning center.
At the tier two level, the district is piloting a new “Check and Connect” program, which aims to identify students in need of additional support at an earlier stage in their education. It involves tracking student behavior, academics and attendance and connecting certain students to an adult mentor in the building, “to hopefully help them build some of their life skills that they might need like problem-solving skills or goal-setting skills, becoming advocates for themselves,” said Fremont Dean of Students Kody Christensen.
Fremont Public Schools is also implementing co-teaching in its core classes — math, science, English and social studies — for the first time this year.
Co-teaching involves having both a general education teacher and a special education teacher in the same classroom, promoting inclusion between different groups of students.
“We are hoping to show that we have higher student achievement which will probably come through with our ACT scores, that’s what we’re hoping that there’ll be a correlation there,” said Shannon Hansen, from Fremont’s special education department. “I think if you ask teachers, they’ll already tell you, at least the resource teachers, is that behaviors have already kind of gone down a little bit, they’re not seeing as many behavioral referrals for students because they’re with their same-age peers and maybe just better role models, peer models.”
Shepard also pointed to changes in the parent-teacher conference system, with faculty members reaching out to parents to schedule a time to meet, in order to increase participation. Those conversations were also expanded to make sure that parents were aware of programs available at the high school — like career readiness programs.
“We’re really two to three to four students away from meeting those [graduation rate] marks that we set out as a board goal several years ago,” Shepard said.