When a student decides to withdraw from Enumclaw High School, the call goes out to Principal Jill Burnes and if possible, she drops everything to meet with that student.
Since taking over the helm of the Enumclaw School District’s flagship, Burns has been performing “exit interviews” with students who have decided the Home of the Hornets is no home to them.
She’s met with 20 students since September, gleaning what they like about the high school and what drives them away. She said most kids meet with her gladly and the experience has proven insightful.
“What we’ve learned shouldn’t be a surprise,” she said. “Every individual has a unique story and the stories are complex.”
A comprehensive high school the size of Enumclaw can’t always meet all their needs. But knowing each student by name and understanding who they are and where they come from can help. What she’s hoping is the information those students provide can help the staff provide better support to keep those students in school and on the road to a diploma.
“Student achievement is our mission and our vision,” Burnes said, with the goal to have all kids graduate and have a post-secondary plan in place.
Burnes doesn’t shy away from talk about graduation rates.
It’s not that the school she leads has a huge dropout rate or runs behind its counterparts in graduation rates, it’s because every student who enters Enumclaw High should earn a diploma, Burnes believes.
But the numbers can be muddy and confusing. The state uses a complex method to calculate dropout and graduation rates. According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, school districts report the enrollment status of their Grade 9–12 students to the OSPI. These students fall into three broad enrollment categories: (1) graduates, those who complete their education with a high school or adult diploma; (2) dropouts, those who dropped out of school for any reason, finished their schooling with any credential other than a regular diploma such as a General Educational Development (GED) credential, or left school and have an “unknown” status; and (3) students who are continuing their schooling.
According to OSPI, in the school year 2005–06, nearly 19,000 students in grades 9–12 dropped out of school, almost 6 percent of all high school students. Males dropped out at a higher rate than females, and more than 10 percent of both American Indian and Black students dropped out of a high school grade during the year. Of the students who began grade 9 in the fall of 2001 and were expected to graduate in 2006, about 21 percent dropped out. Slightly more than 70 percent of students graduated “on-time” and 9.5 percent were still enrolled in school at the end of grade 12. An additional 5 percent graduated after their expected year, so the “extended” graduation rate was 75 percent.
The state reports EHS’s 2007-08 dropout rate at 3.5 percent and its on-time graduation rate at 84.8 percent, both above the state’s percentages of 5.5 and 72.4, respectively. Enumclaw High’s extended graduation rate is 87.4 percent. The state’s is 77.4 percent. Comparatively, for 2007-08, White River School District has a dropout rate of 2.9 percent, an on-time graduation rate of 84.6 percent and an extended graduation rate of 85.7 percent. The Sumner School District’s numbers are 3.1 percent, 83.3 percent and 85.6 percent, respectively.
According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national policy and advocacy organization that works to make every child a high school gradute, every year, approximately 1.2 million students do not graduate from high school on time. Nationwide, only about 70 percent of students earn their high school diplomas.
“The concern is for the nation right now,” Burnes said.
That’s why she and her staff are taking matters into their own hands.
Frustrated by the state’s statistics and method, Burnes has started her own tracking system.
Burnes checks who’s in and who’s out at her 1,400-student school, by name, monthly.
Academic success is sometimes a factor and Burnes said a student’s sophomore year is critical.
A recently-implemented credit retrieval program is helping, and so is a focus on immediate intervention with a program called Hornet Help, which takes struggling ninth-grade students on late-arrival mornings and sits them down with paraeducators to work on assignments and study habits. About 80 students were recently identified from second-quarter progress reports, participation in the program is not optional. Burnes personally is often the nag.
There are also plans to examine the school and staff’s policies and procedures to see if there could be more flexibility in meeting the needs of a diverse student population.
For those who still feel the need to leave, Burnes will continue with the exit interviews – it’s been educational.
Generally, she said, students like Enumclaw High and for the most part, all have a plan usually to finish school in some other form whether that be an alternative school, GED, on-line virtual academy or at another high school.
“I’ve been impressed with their thinking,” she said.
“There are options. It’s different for a lot of kids now days. They have choices.”
In those exit interviews, Burnes also makes sure students know they are always welcome to come back.
“What we hope to learn will give us a support structure to better meet the needs of the kids,” she said.