Graduation improvement: One school’s sucess story for us to follow

Sent to us by Diane Benjamin

T.C. Williams High School may be best known outside the Washington, D.C. area as the setting for the Denzel Washington movie Remember the Titans (ironically filmed here at the former Shamrock Middle School), but it is winning more than football games these days. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education named T.C. Williams a “persistently lowest achieving school” because it was in the bottom 5% of standardized test performance among Virginia schools with similar demographics. Since then, T.C. Williams has transformed itself by focusing on building relationships between counselors and at-risk students, resulting in substantial increases in graduation rates:

“Officials used corresponding federal dollars to create a more personal environment in one of Virginia’s largest schools. Extra counselors were hired, bringing caseloads down to a 1:170 ratio, compared with about 1:400 nationally. And the administration was restructured so that each grade level has a dean, four counselors, a social worker and an administrative assistant who stay with the class for all four years. A specialized academy was created for students learning English.

Graduation rates improved, especially for minorities. For African Americans, the on-time graduation rate grew from 79 percent to 88 percent between 2010 and 2013, and for Hispanics it grew from 69 percent to 80 percent, according to state calculations.”

T.C. Williams, which has 3200 students across two campuses, is the only public high school in the city of Alexandria. About half of its students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The high-touch mentoring approach the school adopted provides the kind of advocacy for high-risk children that middle class families routinely provide. On the other hand, some people might worry that too much help to graduate might sap students’ ability to function after high school.

“If a lot is done for them, they won’t know how to do things for themselves when they no longer have those resources,” said Shaun Harper, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research focuses on success and minority men. He cited the example of student athletes, some of whom struggle to open a checking account or get a job after college.

[Principal] Maxey echoed that concern. “Do we do too much? Absolutely we do too much. But what’s the alternative? Let them fail? That’s not going to help anyone.”

Advocates described a shift in thinking in American high schools from one of personal to shared responsibility, a trend ­fueled by federal accountability measures.

It used to be, “if kids can’t manage their credits and can’t get themselves to school, that’s not our role, that’s their role,” said Robert Balfanz, director of the Every­one Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. Now, more people are talking about the high social costs of dropping out, he said.

Surely the personal intervention that T.C. Williams provides makes more sense than one more partially-deployed central office program, or administrators walking through classrooms playing “teacher gotcha” because a classroom discussion doesn’t match the lesson plan binder. In truth, high school graduation has never solely been about a student’s personal responsibility. Fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen year olds have always needed someone to provide a backstop of structure, a shoulder to cry on, and also a swift kick in the rear end, depending on the situation. T.C. Williams is doing what it takes to make sure that adolescents are not penalized for life because there is not an adult to provide that kind of safety net. No community can afford to walk away from these kids.

Could DeKalb do this if it wanted to? Absolutely.

Click to read entire article:

Operation Graduation helps struggling T.C. Williams students get diplomas

By Michael Alison Chandler, The Washington Post, 13 June 2014


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7 Responses to Graduation improvement: One school’s sucess story for us to follow

  1. Counselor says:

    As a high school counselor in Dekalb County for ten years, I have watched as we have become increasingly unavailable to students due to added tasks and caseloads of over 400 students each. We have become reactive instead of proactive counselors. If our positions were more as counselors instead of advisors, we could have more interactions with our students. Please help to be a voice for us to reduce our caseloads!

  2. September says:

    First, @Counselor thanks for all that you do for our students. I know from personal experience that a school counselor can make a big difference in the life of a student. I don’t accept that providing extra assistance in the form of tutoring, mentoring, or even emotional support is an impediment to success as an adult. How do you learn how to approach a problem, if you don’t get some pointers along the way? This is, or should be, less about doing for students and more about guiding them through the challenges and rough spots they encounter. Recovering from a mistake is often a great learning experience, but most of us ask for help when we need it. Families provide support and guidance for their children and it doesn’t stop when they leave for college. One lesson that I hope our students will learn in high school is that there are always people who are willing to be your mentor. All you have to do is ask.

  3. Here is an example of how our leadership is living on that river in Egypt: Denial.

    Much celebration and back-slapping occurred over this recent news item:

    DeKalb County schools ranked high nationally and statewide

    DeKalb School of the Arts ranked third among Georgia’s more than 460 high schools by U.S. News and World Report. The school scored 79th out of nearly 20,000 high schools around the nation.

    Chamblee Charter High School also was among the top high schools in the national ranking, earning a Gold Medal alongside DSA, the highest award for the nation’s top 500 high schools based on college readiness.

    DSA had a college readiness score of 100 percent from U.S. News and World Report.

    “DSA is reflective of the district’s demographics through the audition and acceptance process without it being forced,” said Susan McCauley, DSA’s principal. “We take students from varying backgrounds and push them to a higher level through our combination of rigorous academics and their passion for the arts.”

    Chamblee Charter High earned top honors for its high percentage of students who graduate fully prepared for college. Chamblee Charter ranked 11th statewide. A third DeKalb high school, DeKalb Early College Academy, received a bronze medal and national recognition for its consistent success in producing college-ready graduates.

    “The U.S. News and World Report rankings acknowledge the work we are doing in DeKalb of academically lifting our students no matter their socioeconomic background,” said Michael Thurmond, superintendent of the DeKalb County School District. “We are proud of the accomplishments of the students and faculty at DSA, Chamblee Charter and DECA. And we won’t stop until every one of our high schools receives top honors, because we know that all of our students can achieve at the highest levels.”

    While we concur, that this is an item to be filed under ‘good news’, we also want to state very clearly that these are small schools/programs that hand-select students based on high test scores. So it’s like saying, ‘hey, our very best, hand-picked students can shine over all other ‘regular’ students in Georgia!’

    Our verdict? Whoopee. Not to take anything away from the success of these students, we would EXPECT these schools to perform well as they have hand-selected our best and brightest. Anything less would be a disservice for these relatively few students – as the system generally is for the rest of the 100,000 in its other 132 schools. Chamblee is a magnet charter school for high achievers. DSA is a magnet school for high achievers with talent (the school is host to a grand total of 300 students grades 8-12 with a full staff and small classes) and DeKalb Early College is a partnership with Georgia Perimeter College, which essentially runs the classes and hosts the students on their campus – not a lot of credit can go directly to DCSS for the success of these students.

  4. BTW – take note that the great Lakeside High School – that historically ALWAYS made this list – is not even mentioned. They have fallen to a critical low – and they are now host to the most students of any school in DeKalb county.

    Thurmond said, ““The U.S. News and World Report rankings acknowledge the work we are doing in DeKalb of academically lifting our students no matter their socioeconomic background,” said Michael Thurmond, superintendent of the DeKalb County School District. “We are proud of the accomplishments of the students and faculty at DSA, Chamblee Charter and DECA. And we won’t stop until every one of our high schools receives top honors, because we know that all of our students can achieve at the highest levels.”

    But that is just great PR. No action is being done to advance this rhetoric. Just lots and lots of ‘strategic plans’, including millions for international teachers and Thurmond’s favorite law firm, McKenna Long & Aldridge (still being paid $50,000 a month for ‘consulting’)…

    How about replicating the small school, low class sizes, highly qualified teachers and staff, individualized, steady counseling, intense extra-curricular activities in the arts and music into ALL schools in order to improve overall system performance? Yeah, right, LOL!

  5. RE: Clarification Regarding Chamblee Charter High School

    Chamblee Charter High School is a public high school with a designated local attendance area. All resident students (students who live within Chamblee Charter High School’s designated local attendance area) are guaranteed a space at Chamblee Charter High School. The High Achievers Magnet is a program (not a school) located within Chamblee Charter High School.

    The High Achievers Magnet Program does have a national standardized test score requirement for admission (we could not find the current requirement published anywhere). However, a student in good standing (we also could not find a definition of this) in the Chamblee Middle School High Achievers Magnet Program may continue to Chamblee Charter High School in the High Achievers Magnet Program.

    For 9th – 12th grades, the number of new students admitted to the High Achievers Magnet Program or who enroll as non-resident charter school students at Chamblee Charter High School is entirely dependant upon the remaining number of available magnet program and charter school seats. (We could not find a published number of magnet program seats or charter school seats for Chamblee Charter High School.)

    Available magnet and charter seats are filled using an “automated random student selection process” (lottery). When the Magnet Program for High Achievers began, the minimum national standardized test score requirement was 75th percentile. From the start, Kittredge was always filled by lottery.

    Approximately 32% of the enrollment at Chamblee Charter High School are in the magnet program. The most recent report card demographics for Chamblee Charter High School show 55% Black, 21% White, 10% Asian, 10% Hispanic, and 3% Multi-racial — and 41% eligible for free-or-reduced-price meals.

  6. Steve says:

    As the former district high school transformation officer for TC Williams High School, I can attest that the turnaround of this great school represents a total-team effort based upon the science of best-practice educational reform efforts. The district developed strategic, operational and tactical efforts in five general areas: 1) position tailored, behaviorally-oriented hiring practices, 2) integrated data-management systems across the curriculum, 3) accelerated reforms of academic policy, school structure and reduction of bureaucratic interference, 4) highly select, external consultants to provide objective assessments to keep the school on its improvement plan, and 5) development, integration and auditing of federal, state and local resourcing supports. This effort began in 2010 and the students achieved remarkable gains in just a few years. It can be done.

  7. Thanks so much for commenting here Steve and for the great input! We will forward it on to the super and the Board in the hopes that they will follow your advice!

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