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District Focused on Graduation



Union Public Schools continues its efforts to achieve 100-percent student graduation, reporting a 90-percent graduation rate for the 2015-2016 school year.
“We often hear from other school districts and from community members, asking ‘what is our secret sauce?’” says Dr. Kathy Dodd, Union associate superintendent of teaching and learning.

However, there is not one simple solution, she continues, but, instead, a shared ideology that the district has cultivated, reaching from administrators to teachers to support staff, plus the institution of a variety of services and programs to better address student needs.

As an example of the district’s responsiveness to student situations, Dodd points to 2011, when administrators realized they needed to take some major steps to address the district’s evolving demographics and changing requirements for graduation, including the institution of the End of Instruction (EOI) exams.

“We were seeing a growing number of students who were unable to speak English and coming from backgrounds of poverty,” she says.

“Those kinds of situations create a need for ongoing support.”

In order to create stronger bonds between high school students and administrators, beginning with 2012, each class grade is assigned a principal, assistant principals, counselors and secretaries who remain with that same student class through high school graduation. This both provides consistency and allows administrators greater opportunity to recognize any warning signs of needed intervention.

“We wanted to loop in the administrative team, because they all play an integral role with the family,” Dodd says.

In line with these efforts, Union updated its strategic plan in 2013, which revolves around the district’s four initiatives: college and career readiness, community schools, STEM and early childhood education.

The launch of the updated plan fell close to the time of the transition of district superintendent from Dr. Cathy Burden to Dr. Kirt Hartzler.

Because Hartzler, a long-time Union employee, holds the same ideals and goals of the district, “that transition was smooth,” says Dodd, and it allowed the district to stay the course regarding implementation of its strategies.

In line with the district’s mission to achieve 100-percent graduation, its Career Connect program exposes high school students to various career opportunities, serving as “a way to motivate kids to come to school,” says Dodd, who cites the recent example of two students who were struggling with school attendance.

“We told them about this program, and one of the boys started crying. Now, they already know what they are going to do once they graduate,” she says. “They needed hope and training.”

As a motivation to attend college, Union High School’s concurrent enrollment program provides an opportunity for students to take college-level courses while still in high school.

“Concurrent enrollment is often responsible for creating first-generation college students; it shows students that they have what it takes to be successful in college,” she says.

Additionally, administrators have put in place individuals, such as retired educators, charged with reaching out to students who never received their high school diplomas, many of whom are only a few credits shy of graduating.

“We are still chasing down students from 2015,” Dodd says. “We keep offering support services to those ones to help them graduate.”

While Union’s methods may continue to be revised to better match with student needs, the district’s focus on student success remains.

“Our shared goal permeates how we do business. We are all using our talents and abilities to help students,” says Dodd.

Updated 06-17-2017

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