Union Achieves 100 Percent Graduation
By EMILY RAMSEY
BRIGHT FUTURE: Union Public Schools Superintendent Kirt Hartzler stands in front of photos that show the focus of his administration and staff: the students. For the 2012-13 school year, the school district reported a 100 percent graduation rate.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
As Union Public Schools begins 2014, administrators and staff are already halfway through their first school year with a revised strategic plan and mission statement: to graduate 100 percent of students, college and/or career ready.
On Dec. 9, the school board accepted the strategic plan, which sets in motion a five-year plan that continues through the 2017-18 school year.
The plan includes four areas of focus that help to achieve the district’s mission. The four areas are (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), early childhood education, community schools and the Collegiate Academy. “Everything we do goes back to accomplishing the mission statement,” says School Superintendent Kirt Hartzler.
The Union administration surveyed students regarding revising its plan and mission statement, and “we found that one thing that needed to change was engagement,” Hartzler says. “They told us we needed more personalization and advocacy for them, such as helping them learn how to apply to college and for scholarships.”
Among the results of that information was Union’s virtual academy and an increased emphasis on classes.
“Research suggests that there will be a lot of jobs and future jobs related to that field (),” Hartzler says.
Students at Darnaby Elementary are also engaged in a pilot program.
Union’s early childhood education centers are focused on preparing young ones to enter school. The school district offers programs for three- and four-year-olds. “Kids who are better prepared for kindergarten flourish academically and socially,” Hartzler says. “Teachers in these programs say that their students are typically about half a year ahead of other students their age.”
Union’s community schools are all about engagement with their surrounding communities.
Currently, the district has two full community schools—Roy Clark and Rosa Parks elementaries. In the future, Hartzler would like to see all of Union’s schools become community schools; although, that will only happen with the partnership of more local businesses and faith-based organizations, he says.
The district has six emerging community schools, which means that each school has a community coordinator in charge of fostering relationships within the community. Those six emerging schools are Briarglen, Bovers, Grove, McAuliffe, and Jefferson elementaries and the 6th and 7th Grade Center.
Reflecting on the 2012-13 school year, Hartzler beams with pride as he recounts that as of Dec. 11, 100 percent of Union High School seniors passed their end of instruction () tests and graduated. “And that’s in a district with 66 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches,” he says.
Before Dec. 11, the district was one student away from reaching its 100 percent goal. The student had dealt with issues that kept him from taking the tests to graduate, says Hartzler. However, his teachers were undeterred. “They hunted him down and helped to prepare him for graduation.”
The administration and staff’s eagerness to meet their objective, though, is not due to their desire to meet their target numbers. Instead, it’s about student accomplishment and future opportunities.
“The diploma is the gatekeeper to anything else they want to do after high school,” Hartzler says. “Students don’t always understand the significance of graduating because they may be dealing with so much, just trying to pay for gas for their car and dealing with immediate problems.”
Therefore, school administrators and teachers have taken it upon themselves to remind the students and encourage them to meet the finish line.
“This new mission is changing us in ways that, in my tenure here, I have never seen before,” he says.