Wake working to raise high schools’ graduation rate

khui@newsobserver.comSeptember 20, 2013 

  • More year-round schools?

    Wake County school leaders Tuesday downplayed the idea that they may convert more schools to a year-round calendar for the 2014-15 year.

    School board members received a list of items that administrators said they’ll work on through December. Among the items is work by student assignment staffers on a year-round school proposal involving calendar changes as part of a student assignment plan for 2014-2015.

    Superintendent Jim Merrill said inclusion of the year-round proposal on the work list doesn’t mean there are plans to convert schools for next year.

    Since the early 1990s, Wake has used multitrack year-round calendars as a way to keep up with overcrowding. Splitting students into four groups, with three groups in class at all times, can increase the number of students a school can accommodate.

    The schedule, in which students have breaks throughout the year instead of a long summer vacation, is unpopular with many families.

— Wake County school leaders said Tuesday that more work needs to be done to raise the district’s high school graduation rate, which now is below the state average.

Since 2006, the state’s graduation rate has risen from 68.3 percent to 82.5 percent. But during the same period, Wake’s graduation rate has dropped from 82.6 percent to 81 percent with groups such as low-income, black and Hispanic students performing at a lower rate than their peers statewide.

“If we’re going to increase the graduation rate any more, we’re going to have to reach out to the more challenged groups,” school board Chairman Keith Sutton said.

Sutton called on the board to discuss the graduation rate at an upcoming planning retreat. He said the district needs to put “a stake in the ground,” or make a firm commitment, that it will raise the graduation rate regardless of what it takes.

Superintendent Jim Merrill said he met Monday with 14 high school principals to ask them which of their methods are working and what additional resources are needed.

“You’ll see some things at budget time, I have no doubt, to shore up resources,” Merrill said.

Graduation rates will be discussed Thursday at a countywide meeting of principals. Marvin Connelly, assistant superintendent for student support services, said that they’ll share with principals strategies that some schools have found to be successful.

School board member Kevin Hill noted the correlation between the gaps in third-grade reading scores and high school graduation rates. Hill, a retired principal, said they need to look long term at promoting literacy at the K-2 level.

While Wake is now below the state average, school administrators noted, the district’s graduation rate has been rising in recent years. This year, Wake’s rate went up 0.4 percentage points.

“It’s now staring us in the face that the small incremental gains that we’ve been making need to be accelerated,” said Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance. “We need to do better than this.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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