MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon School District has its sights set on a new goal, one it hopes will affect not only its students, but the entire community.
At a community event held Thursday evening on Skagit Valley College’s Mount Vernon campus, Mount Vernon School District Superintendent Carl Bruner officially announced the district’s goal of having 100 percent of its students graduate high school.
“There’s lots of way we could improve our school district, but that seemed pretty obvious,” said Mount Vernon School Board President Rob Coffey.
Currently, about 70 percent of students who attend school in the district graduate high school in four years, according to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
For the district’s board and administration, that number isn’t good enough.
“We need everybody to graduate,” Coffey said.
For the district — which has a high rate of poverty and many English-language learners — settling for 70 percent of students graduating is akin to failing the other 30 percent, he said.
“Those are students who statistically will earn much less in their lifetime, who statistically will be unemployed at a higher rate, who will be incarcerated at a higher rate, who will have a less satisfactory home life,” Coffey said of those who don’t graduate. “For the community, it means a group of people who will contribute less to our economy and for that matter will use much more of our social services and basically cost us more.”
Coffey pointed to the success of the Sunnyside School District near Yakima, a district of similar size with a similar demographic.
About seven years ago, Coffey said, about 45 percent of Sunnyside students graduated high school on time.
According to the most recent data from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, 90.1 percent of the Sunnyside High School class of 2016 graduated after four years.
“If they can do it, so can we,” Coffey said.
To do so, the district has identified four areas it needs to focus on: early learning from preschool to third grade, increasing parent engagement, fostering individual determination and creativity among students, and improving classroom environments.
“Powerful teaching and learning in every classroom for every child and student in the classroom every day is extremely important,” Bruner said. “These four strategies constitute our commitment to you and to all of our students.”
As the district developed its plan, Bruner said it also modeled itself after the Highline and Tacoma school districts — large, diverse districts with increasing graduation rates.
Those districts, Bruner said, utilize a tool that the Mount Vernon School District hopes to capitalize on as well — the community.
“It’s not just look what we as a school district have done, it’s look what we as a community ... have done,” Bruner said.
As such, the district is asking for more help from families, community members and local businesses.
The district is looking for people willing to get involved with students either through mentoring or by visiting classrooms to talk about real-world job and life experiences.
“One of the most powerful elements in influencing a child’s success is their relationship with a caring adult,” Bruner said.
The district is also looking for business leaders willing to hire high school students, who have been vetted and are likely to thrive in a business setting, for summer internships.
“We always hear from businesses that kids need soft skills,” Bruner said. “That means teamwork, problem solving, interpersonal skills and creativity. We can teach some of that in the classroom, but there is no better place to teach that than in a real job experience.”
While much of the work to achieve the district’s 100 percent goal will be done in the public school system, the district is also relying on partnerships with Skagit Valley College and Western Washington University.
“It’s important that we give students a broad comprehensive education, as well as the technical skills,” Skagit Valley College President Tom Keegan said.
During the past 20 years, the nature of jobs has changed, Keegan said.
In 2013, 61 percent of jobs required post-high school education, he said. By 2020, that number is projected to be about 85 percent.
“These changes require education beyond high school to participate,” he said.
One local entity willing to consider high school interns is the city of Mount Vernon, Mayor Jill Boudreau said.
“We definitely welcome students to visit,” Boudreau said. “We’ve got to look at our future of job filling; we need to have succession plans for people to work at the city.”
The district is also looking for business owners willing to let the district use the names or logos of their businesses on the district’s promotional materials, and anyone interested in displaying window decals or bumper stickers to show support for the school’s goal.
While the high school graduation rate is only one measurement of success for a school district, Coffey said it is an easy one to identify and speaks to another value: equity.
“A commitment to equity is a commitment to ensure each and every student has what they need to succeed in their education,” Coffey said. “That’s a commitment that we all make in the Mount Vernon School District and many school districts across the country.”
Those interested in supporting the district’s goals may visit mvsd320.org or email Carol Ledin at the district office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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