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More students across the state are graduating high school, and the rate locally is going up, too.

Across Wisconsin, the high school graduation rate went up from 88 percent in 2013 to 88.6 percent in 2014. In Racine Unified, more students are walking across the stage; from 69.8 percent in 2013 to 72.4 in 2014.

Racine Unified Superintendent Lolli Haws recognized last week during a visit to the Sturtevant Village Board meeting that while an improvement is noteworthy, the actual number of graduates needs to continue to go up, and efforts are underway that are already paying dividends.

“We’re calling our plan ‘Raising Racine’ because our plan is to raise achievement, raise the community, and positively impact employment and jobs, too,” she said. “We’ve gotten some criticism for moving too fast, but we are in dire straits. We have bright, beautiful students, and they deserve the best.”

Haws and Board of Education President Melvin Hargrove visited Sturtevant to talk about the good news happening throughout the district, the work being done to keep improving, and areas where attention is needed.

How efforts are paying off

Haws detailed some changes that went into effect this school year that are having a positive impact:

  • FUNdations for kindergarten and 1st grade: targets kindergarteners so they enter 1st grade ready to read. The number of students who are going into 1st grade ready to read has risen dramatically, Haws said; from just 67 percent in Fall 2013 to 87 percent in Fall 2014.
  • Freshman Cohorts: incoming freshmen at Case, Horlick and Park were divided into three groups at each school and attended all their classes together; had the same sub-school principal, counselors, and the same core teachers. The goal is for freshmen to end the year with six credits so they’re on track to graduate on time. “Completing the first year on track ends the cycle of students falling behind and dropping out because they can’t catch up because they fell behind,” Haws stated. “Ninth graders who are on track with their credits are four times more likely to graduate on time.”
  • Changes to school climates: Reducing class size by one each year for three years, from 30 to 27 in elementary and middle schools and 35 to 32 in high schools is just one example. “I know it doesn’t seem like a lot, but it makes a big difference,” Haws said. “It’s expensive because that means more teachers, but it’s working to reduce some of the behaviors we’ve been hearing about.”

A program that will start this fall is the High School Career Pathway where students will be tracked into a path that gets them college and/or career ready by the time they graduate. The program is modeled on a similar set-up in Nashville that has more than a decade of success.

In a nutshell, students will choose from a variety of career/college readiness fields – automotive, business/marketing, heathcare, IT, IB/AP classes, and manufacturing, among others – and take classes while also gaining real-world experience starting in their sophomore year. An editorial in The Journal Times Sunday noted the potential for success and urged community residents to support the pathways curriculum.

“Everyone graduates with something in their pocket,” Hargrove said. “Students in Nashville have been more eager to learn and participate, so they’re staying in school.”

Where to go from here

Sturtevant trustees told Haws they were happy to see her and Hargrove and hoped the next visit wouldn’t be so few and far between.

“We feel like Unified doesn’t care about the village, and that’s part of the reason we’ve been talking about a new school district,” Sturtevant President Steve Jansen said.

There will be a district meeting with government leaders this summer, Haws promised, to keep everyone talking.

“We will meet in July about how our progress is going,” she said.

Trustee John Johnson noted the challenges ahead and that he wants to Haws, and, by extension, Unified students, to succeed.

“You have a huge challenge ahead of you, but I know the problem wasn’t created overnight so we have to be patient,” he said. “I would like to see you and our students succeed.”

Haws acknowledged the challenge but said there’s too much at stake for patience.

“Children’s lives are at stake, so we can’t be patient,” she said. “We’re seeing great preliminary results so now it’s time to work together and move into the future.”

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