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Tracking, intervention raise graduation rate

CMSD is raising its graduation rate – one student at a time.

The District’s four-year graduation has climbed 12 points since 2011 and stands at a record 64.3 percent. Administrators and staff have pushed the rate upward by tracking students’ state test results and credits, but during the 2014-15 school year they took monitoring and intervention to a micro level.

CMSD expanded student profiles used to determine who is at risk of not reaching the finish line. The District added other factors and attributes such as attendance, suspensions and special-education and English language learner status, all possible signals that a student has fallen off course or could.

“We have so much information on our students,” said Karen Thompson, deputy chief of curriculum and instruction. “It’s all in one document now. It’s providing more of a narrative.”

Like the reasons that CMSD students fall off track, intervention comes in many forms.

It could be the School of One, which puts at-risk students on personal education plans and lets them work online.

Or it could be credit recovery, which allows students to work on computers, in or out of school, and progress at their own paces while making up courses they missed or failed.

Sometimes, it’s just good old-fashioned pushing and prodding.

School of One, patterned after a program in Washington, D.C., was launched in 2012 and serves the seventh through 12th grades.

Based at seven high schools, the program graduated 167 students this year. The total could rise as high as 250 when results are in from classes that continue 20 days into the District’s summer break, Program Administrator Wayne Marok said.

School of One maintains flexible hours, including time on Saturday, if necessary, to serve students dealing with barriers that range from work and parenthood to difficulty fitting in a larger school environment. A social worker helps overcome the obstacles.

Students work online at their individual paces, under the guidance of a teacher. “There’s a bond that develops between the teacher and that student,” Marok said.

Credit recovery allows students to make up a wide range of courses in as little as two weeks, though the time could stretch into months, depending on the subject and the student, said Suzanne Tenbrook, one of two teachers in the program at John Marshall High School. John Marshall will become a campus with three small schools next school year.

The credit recovery teachers have adjusted their schedules to be available 50 minutes longer at the end of the school day, at least four days a week. Five other teachers, primarily math instructors, volunteer to help.

More than 90 John Marshall students, including 46 seniors, completed 295 semester courses during the past school year. Tenbrook said the rush was on in the final weeks as students scrambled to fulfill requirements.

Students are excited to see the certificates she posts in the hallway when they pass a subject, but the journey can be bumpy.

Tenbrook requires students to sign a contract committing to serious effort. If they fail to comply with the terms, she enlists parents, guidance counselors, coaches and others for backup.

“You’re going to be here,” she said. “You’re going to work and you’re going to make progress.”

Tenbrook and a chemistry teacher joined forces this past year on a new concept that could be expanded: The online coursework was used as a supplement instead of a stand-alone, so a small group of students could receive help and remain in their regular class.

“We want to stop the kids from going into credit recovery,” Tenbrook said. “In the perfect world, there is no credit recovery.”

James Ford Rhodes High School conducted monthly Saturday tutoring sessions during the school year to prepare students for the Ohio Graduation Test. Seniors who lacked credits needed to graduate had to sign letters committing to getting back on track.

The school held meetings for parents of seniors whose children had received one or more F’s on their report cards. They made it difficult for parents to claim they were unaware of the meetings, contacting them by automated phone calls, letters sent home with students and certified letters sent via U.S. mail.

Assistant Principal Yolanda Eiland said she gets excited talking about guiding kids to graduation. She said her relationship with parents is like a marriage, adding, “You can divorce me when your child goes across that stage and goes to college.”

All but three of 93 seniors at the Cleveland School of the Arts received diplomas when the school held commencement May 19 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. And all of those seniors had applied to at least three colleges.

Guidance counselors Tess Clarke and Joe Seeholzer rode herd on the group from the start. They collar all incoming ninth-graders and clearly set the expectation that the students will graduate and do so on time.

The counselors make sure the kids understand that artistic talent will help them get to the door of higher education but stress that credits, ACT scores and grade-point averages are keys to entry. They track progress semester to semester and notify parents when students are flunking subjects.

The pair keeps watch even after senioritis sets in, confronting meandering teenagers and ensuring they get to class. All the scrutiny might seem to invite backlash, but Clarke said a survey question posed to the Class of 2015 validated the approach.

“We asked, ‘What was helpful to you,’ ” she said. “One of the big things kids said was ‘Keep on us. We say we don’t like it, but we know next year in college we have to be more independent.’ ”