With a focus on student achievement, Fulton City School District teachers and support staff recently met in a collaborative effort to discuss the factors that contribute to students meeting graduation requirements, the graduation rate and develop strategies to bolster that figure.
The fall staff development day provided an opportunity for school personnel to examine some of the root causes as to why some students didn’t finish high school in four years.
Teachers, guidance counselors, school-home liaisons and special education counselors from kindergarten through 12th grade studied student data in a comprehensive way.
“We wanted to look and identify with our student support staff … just what were some of the barriers to kids completing (high school),” said Geri Geitner, FSCD director of student support programs. “So we brainstormed that and then we looked at specific kids from the time they entered our district all the way through. We had all of their information and data, and identified for each kid where we started to see things fall apart.”
A wide variety of factors played roles in student achievement, according to the data collected during the collaborative staff development day. Academic, behavioral, social, emotional, family and attendance issues were all identified as factors that influenced the outcomes.
According to Geitner, staff members not only looked at when those issues started to surface, but they also discussed some of the preventive strategies that are working for students facing similar circumstances.
“We looked at kids with similar risk factors that had graduated and (examined) what made them successful and how they were able to overcome barriers and complete their high school graduation requirement,” Geitner said.
“We looked at the kids who didn’t pass Regents exams and attendance was really the common factor,” said G. Ray Bodley High School Principal Donna Parkhurst, noting that students who missed 15 days or more were among those who had the most difficulty.
Another subgroup, those who are categorized as having low socioeconomic status, also struggled to earn a diploma on time, Parkhurst said.
To address some of the issues identified as risk factors, the district has conducted thorough training and development using the work of renowned educators Eric Jensen and Ruby Payne.
“We’ve done extensive professional development around both of those researchers and have focused on strategies for implementing some of their (recommendations) school wide and district wide,” Geitner said.
In addition to holding staff development days and utilizing the research developed by respected educators, the district has implemented its own strategies to boost the graduation rate as well.
“We’re really trying to implement the response to intervention framework … to monitor progress, identify students who are struggling and trying to put corrections in place as soon as those challenges come to light,” Geitner said.
Parkhurst noted that there are also credit recovery and grade recovery options for students who have fallen behind. Teachers offer assistance after school and there are tutoring options available to help students stay on track.
While there are plenty of options available to help students succeed, one of the more unique strategies was implemented last year with the introduction of college and career readiness portfolios. The electronic portfolios began with seventh-graders in 2012-13 and serve as a goal-setting initiative.
“It gets them thinking about their long-term goals earlier on … engaging them in that conversation,” Geitner said. “Each year the students have a different section of the portfolio to complete. (It includes) objectives and information about career and college options. They can print it out and use it for their own benefit if they were to apply for a job, to enter the military or to apply for college, so they can use them for their long-term planning.”
With an intense focus on student achievement and improving the graduation rate, Fulton school administrators are confident that the right strategies are in place and that staff development days serve a key role in helping the district meets it goals.
“One of the biggest benefits (of the recent staff development day) was that it was a K through 12 approach, so that kind of collaboration was very beneficial,” Geitner said. “We gained a lot of insight from the elementary and middle school staff to supplement what the secondary and high school staff knew about the kids when they were here, so that was really helpful. It also helped us focus on areas where we could continue to improve and grow our transitions, not just between junior high and high school, but transitions all the way along.”