School News

News for Marion Community Schools

MHS graduation rate tops 91 percent

Posted: by Patricia Gibson, Communications Director
MARION (Feb. 28, 2013) — Finalized numbers certified by the state have confirmed what leaders at Marion Community Schools had projected: The graduation rate at Marion High School has jumped again and is now higher than the state rate.

For the 2011-12 school year, the MHS graduation rate was 91.1 percent. That’s an 11 percent jump from the previous year’s rate, 81.9. But a slightly longer view reveals a more impressive accomplishment: The 2011-12 rate is a 57 percent increase since 2006-07, when the rate was 58 percent.

2011-12 also marks the first time in many years that the MHS graduation rate has topped the overall state rate, which was 87.9 percent for public schools.

That’s a remarkable stat for a school that just two years ago was on academic probation and facing the possibility of state takeover after years of struggle.

Staff rises to the challenge

Those dark days actually served as a motivating force. An independent evaluation, the Cambridge report, highlighted problem areas, and staff members rose to the challenge.

They took a stand, said MHS Principal Lennon Brown, who arrived in early 2011, after the state urged a change in the school’s administration. In response to the report and the threat of state takeover, he said, the prevailing attitude was: “This is not going to happen to us. We’re better than this.”

That was the kick-start that was needed.

Terry Lakes, chair of the English Department at MHS, agreed.

“Cambridge was eye-opening for us, he said. “From that day forward, we didn’t whine about it, we didn’t gripe about it. We came to the conclusion: What do we need to do to get better?”

A major component of that answer was better data, and better use of that data.

The school committed to following up on students who left MHS, realizing how big of an impact they could still have on the school’s statistics, Brown said. They now work to ensure that record transfers are complete and all needed paperwork is properly filed, so that the graduation rate offers a more accurate picture of their current student population.

The school also has emphasized direct involvement with families of struggling students.

Data drives success

Data plays a critical role in the success of the school’s students and teachers day-to-day too, Lakes said.

From STI testing, which helps evaluate individual students on individual curriculum standards on a continuous basis, to the TAP System, which helps teachers then integrate that test data to tailor their classroom instruction, the whole process is designed to allow teachers and students to take more personal responsibility for their own performance – and to give them the tools to improve.

Lakes has been at MHS since 1985. He was there for the struggle and the painful decline, and now he’s playing an integral role in the rise.

The passage rate for the English 10 end-of-course assessment, one of the tests students must pass to graduate, is up 44 percent since the 2009-10 school year. And that’s largely due to the focus on state standards and how students measure up to them, Lakes said.

On the other ECA students must pass to graduate, the Algebra 1 test, passage rates have risen 87 percent.

Faculty members have worked tirelessly to improve those scores, Lakes said.

But before the new data-based changes, he said, “We were just shooting in the dark.”

Team effort pays off

Now it’s a whole different outlook, with administration and staff collaborating to determine what action to take, Lakes said.

The reliance on data, combined with leadership from Brown, along with Freshman Center Principal James Bragg and Superintendent Steve Edwards, made way for the drastic improvements, Lakes said.

“Once we got the ship righted, we knew what we needed to do,” he said.

The changes started out, Brown said, as simply doing anything to stop the bleeding. But it grew into a whole new way of thinking and dealing with challenges, he said.

The turnaround, said Marion Community Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ken Folks, is a credit to the team effort and the hard work of not only the administrators and teachers, but of the students, school board and community at large as well.

He specifically praised the administration at MHS, though, for their pinpoint focus on the progress of those students in danger of not graduating. Progress is monitored on a weekly basis, and that data is then funneled into the systems in place for student and teacher improvement.

When the school was tumbling, Brown said, the right conversations were not happening.

Now, he said, “We’re on top of what’s happening to us.”

Lakes agreed.

“We know where we’ve been,” he said. “Now we know where we need to go.”