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Estacada High school and Summit Learning Charter school see higher graduation rates than the state average

COURTESY PHOTO: ESTACADA SCHOOL DISTRICT - Members of Estacada High School's class of 2019 triumphantly throw their caps in the air.

The number of students from Estacada High School and Summit Learning Charter who walk across the graduation stage each year is on the rise.

According to data from the Oregon Department of Education, 84.55% of Estacada High School's Class of 2019 graduated in four years, and at Summit Learning Charter in Eagle Creek, 96.88% of the class of 2019 graduated in four years.

Graduation rates at both schools have been on the rise for some time. For the 2013-14 school year, Summit had a graduation rate of 9.64% and Estacada High had a graduation rate of 74.64%.

The 2018-19 graduation rate for the school district as a whole was 66.11%, a figure that also includes data from Summit Community College High School in Salem.

For the next several weeks, the Estacada News will examine the school district's rise in graduating students, including increased school wide graduation rates, higher graduation rates for students who participate in career technical education courses and support for students with disabilities.

"It's exciting to see growth in a way that engages students," said Maggie Kelly, communications director for the Estacada School District.

Summit Learning Charter Principal Sean Gallagher attributes the school's significant rise in graduating students to a variety of factors, including having time to mature as an institution.

"During our early years, we were pioneers in online education. There were a number of honest factors that really impact successful outcomes," he said. "As we began to grow and mature as a school, and develop training practices and learn about the best practices of online education and how they are significantly different from the best practices of traditional classroom teaching, we became more sophisticated educators in this model. We're able to develop better infrastructure and supports that really help keep kids from falling in the cracks."

Established in the 2008-09 school year, Summit had 367 students during the 2013-14 year. Last school year, enrollment was at 1,078 students.

"In our early time period, there was a preeminent focus on successful enrollment. We were accepting students all the way through the month of May," Gallagher said.

Many additional elements at Summit have been refined with time.

"When you start a school from nothing, you don't have a counseling department. You don't have an administrative department. You've got to create all of those pieces and then build systems within to support the development and maturation of each of those components so that you create a school (where) every single cog is turning effectively on its own, as well as working together," Gallagher said.

Leaders at Summit Learning Charter want the school to support students throughout their educational journey.

"We began shifting our mindset to develop supports to create a full continuum of services, with the goal that a student could enroll with us as a kindergartener, grow as a learner as a student through elementary school, transition into middle school, transition into high school, graduate from our high school program, and have all of the services that they might need as a learner be met by what our system brought to play, and that took time to develop," he said.

Along with a variety of online and in-person educational supports, Summit also offers extracurricular activities and events at its campuses in Eagle Creek and Tigard.

"I strongly believe that the single most powerful way to create student performance is to create engagement and relationships, and that's more challenging in a virtual setting, so we put an enormous amount of effort into designing learning events, learning enrichments or enrichment schedules," Gallagher said. "We want that connection with them because engagement creates student success. The single most important thing that moves the needle with student outcomes is student engagement."

Collaboration among teachers

Estacada High School leaders noted that one valuable element of preparing students for success has been happening behind the scenes — professional learning communities.

Each Wednesday, teachers from Estacada High School, Estacada Middle School, River Mill Elementary School and Clackamas River Elementary School gather to discuss student assessments and scores.

With teachers of similar subjects and grade levels, educators discuss how students are performing and teaching strategies.

"We're getting better at what we do, and through that, (teachers) can learn from someone else's (strategies,)" said Estacada High School Principal Blevins. "And at the same time knowing that these students need this particular help, hopefully we pinpoint exactly what we need when we need it."

At the high school, professional learning communities have been in place for a decade. District leaders appreciate that they are now utilized at all grade levels.

"I think it's powerful that PLCs are districtwide initiatives," Kelly said. "We have elementary teachers and middle school teachers collaborating as well, so that we can ensure that when students get to high school, they are prepared to begin. We're making sure we're setting students up for success early on."

At Summit Learning Charter, teachers attend a variety of conferences dedicated to digital education.

"It's important to get this learning, because it creates a wave of impact in the classroom setting, (and) in the curriculum development setting," Gallagher said. "In the fast moving world of digital technology you've really got to be committed to being at the front."

PMG FILE PHOTO - Graduating Estacada High School seniors connect with younger students during the annual grad walk.

More learning opportunities

Several elements inside and outside of classrooms in Estacada and Summit Learning Charter support learning for all students. Summit offers in-person tutoring four days each week at its Eagle Creek Campus and three days each week at its Tigard campus. Additionally, all teachers host office hours in which they are available to students.

At Estacada High School, a new class period called "Ranger Time" gives students an opportunity to seek academic assistance during the school day. The high school also offers after-school tutoring, with transportation home available.

For those who prefer a different environment, Estacada High School's Road to Success Alternative School gives students the opportunity to make up credits. Launched in 2016, the school-within-a-school replaced the high school's previous online credit recovery program.

Additionally, all Estacada grade levels participate in inclusive practices, meaning that special education students and those with behavioral concerns are spending more time in general education classrooms rather than self-contained classes or outside placements.

Another shift in the district has been to standards-based grading, which focuses on students showing signs of understanding specific elements of lessons. Blevins noted that this philosophy promotes learning to gain knowledge, rather than just a high grade.

"There's a clear understanding of the expectations of what (students) need to know as opposed to how many points can I get to pass," he said. "It changes the thought of what (students) are doing in the classroom. (They're) looking to learn something as opposed to (see) how many points (they can) get."

"Students have the opportunity to try again and tackle learning, stay there until they're able to grasp it again," Kelly added.

Starting early

Estacada school leaders have also taken a variety of steps to ensure that student success begins with their youngest students. This school year, the district launched a pre-kindergarten program to ensure participants are prepared to begin their academic career.

"We're excited to begin to see students be prepared at an early age," Kelly said.

At the elementary school levels, students who are struggling academically receive additional support in the classroom and extra help outside of class.

Along with these academic supports, younger students are given something to aspire to every spring when the graduation Estacada High School class embarks on their annual walk through all of the school halls.

"It's great to see those role models," Kelly said, noting that the event benefits all members of the school community. "I think the high school students appreciate it, as well, because I think they want to be role models they want to get across that stage. It's honoring something that really is special and that's a lot of work."

By the numbers

Graduation rates for the class of 2019 are as follows:

State of Oregon: 80%

Estacada High School

All students: 84.55%

Students with disabilities: 68.42%

Students who took one CTE class: 86.36%

Students who took three or more CTE classes in the same subject: 90.7%

Summit Learning Charter

All students: 96.88%

Students with disabilities: More than 95%

Students who took one CTE class: More than 95%

Students who took three or more CTE classes in the same subject: More than 95%

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