In an about-face from last year’s numbers, the recently released graduation rates for 2016-17 for Englewood High School might elicit some double takes — the district as a whole saw a small …
In an about-face from last year’s numbers, the recently released graduation rates for 2016-17 for Englewood High School might elicit some double takes — the district as a whole saw a small downturn, while its traditional high school lost nearly all the gains it made the previous year.
Meanwhile, Englewood Schools’ alternative school made a strong climb of more than 5 percentage points — an increase of more than one-fifth the rate it started with.
But the causes behind those four-year graduation rate changes are difficult to track, district officials said.
“When we look at graduation rates, there’s never really one thing we can point to,” said Diana Zakhem, director of postsecondary and workforce readiness for Englewood Schools. “We know a number of factors impact a student’s ability to graduate on time.”
Indicators like attendance, behavior and course failures — what officials call the “ABCs” — are part of what the district looks to improve through programs and services it offers to students. A number of programs that aim to engage students — from career and technical education programs to simply making them feel more supported — are among the strategies the district employs to try to build on the progress it’s made in recent years.
Ups and downs for four-year graduation
From school year 2015-16 to 2016-17, Englewood High School’s graduation rate fell about 7 percentage points, from 75.6 percent to 68.8 percent. That puts it right back where it was three years ago — the rate for school year 2014-15 was 68.4 percent, itself a small dip in a rate that’s wobbled back and forth since 2010.
The district-wide graduation rate is a combination of the EHS rate and that of the alternative school, Colorado’s Finest High School of Choice, which is why Englewood’s overall rate usually looks lower than other districts, said Julie McMorris, spokeswoman for Englewood Schools.
Colorado’s Finest mostly serves students defined by the state Education Department as at high risk of dropping out due to various personal-life obstacles or factors — or who are older than the traditional age for their grade level and are behind on credit hours — and students who have an individualized education program (IEP) based on a disability or emotional challenges, as well as some students who fall outside those two groups. Colorado’s Finest saw a rise in graduation rates from 23.5 percent in 2015-16 to 28.8 percent in 2016-17.
It’s a large leap for the school, which has more than doubled its graduation rate since 2010.
That year is when former Superintendent Brian Ewert took his position in the district, heralding a new era of stability in which Englewood Schools implemented a new model for instruction, playing a role in residents passing a $50 million bond for construction of a new high-school campus that also houses both the city’s middle schools.
In that time, graduation rates ran on a general upward trend, especially as Englewood’s combined rate between its two high schools jumped 11.5 percentage points for school year 2012-13. But EHS’ fallback can appear puzzling against that backdrop.
Tools for progress
Tying new programs and ideas to fluctuations in graduation rates isn’t always easy because they can take a while to show results, Zakhem pointed out.
“Sometimes we implement a program like Ignite, but don’t see results for three or four years,” Zakhem said, because one cohort of students has to fully go through it.
That program at Colorado’s Finest involves self-exploration, college visits, worksite visits and mock interviews, Zakhem said.
“We put in some innovative programming to help kids connect with their futures — some career and technical education (and) industry certificates, concurrent enrollment,” Zakhem said. It’s “really focused on relevancy — why does school matter?”
At EHS, Colorado’s Finest and Englewood Middle School, the AVID program — Advancement Via Individual Determination — is another college-readiness system, Zakhem said. Organizational skills and critical reading are among the assets teachers in various classes focus on, and an AVID elective class for middle- and lower-achieving students prepares them for the rigor they’ll face in higher education and the workforce, according to the district’s website.
Career and technical education is also a pillar of Englewood Schools’ approach — programs like SAGE (Sustainable Agriculture and Green Energies), audio production, cosmetology, STEM, journalism and broadcast journalism, culinary arts, and business are offered for students at both high schools.
It’s about being able to “connect kids to their passion,” Zakhem said. We “want students taking those classes to be able to determine if it’s a fit for them.”
Englewood Schools participates in a consortium, a partnership with Littleton Public Schools, Cherry Creek School District, Sheridan School District and Douglas County School District, that allows its students access to career and technical education programs in those districts and vice versa.
A personal touch
Increasingly over recent years, Englewood Schools has focused on addressing students’ personal and emotional needs, too.
“We take the social-emotional needs of our students very seriously,” Zakhem said. We “do know those (needs) affect their academic life, so we want to make sure we have services to support that.”
For EHS, officials are taking steps so freshmen will be assigned an academic adviser who will maintain a strong relationship with each student and keep them on track, Zakhem said.
“They already have the counselor, but this is an additional person looking out for them and for challenges they might encounter,” McMorris said.
The goal is to have every student feel that there are adults in that building who care about them — that they each have an adult advocate, Zakhem said.
That sentiment, part of the fabric of Colorado’s Finest, may be part of its upswing, Zakhem said. More counselors on staff, added social-emotional efforts and the extra personal attention teachers can give to each student there — enrollment averages a few hundred students — are part of the strategy.
“I think all of those things in combination over a period of time (are) what has made a positive impact,” Zakhem said. “So there’s a lot to celebrate there.”