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D-2 unveils 'no excuses' plan to improve graduation rate, achievement

April 20, 2011

The “graduating” class members marched into the ballroom to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, fiddling with their mortar boards and flashing effervescent smiles.

By the time the 100 kindergartners from Soaring Eagles Elementary School reached the stage, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The message on matching white T-shirts told the story: College Graduate – Class of 2027.

The futuristic snapshot  was the grand finale of a community unveiling of Harrison School District 2’s ambitious five-year plan.

The district promises to graduate 90 percent of its high school students on time, and ensure that 70 percent will be prepared to attend college or trade schools or join the military without remediation.

The goal was well received Wednesday at a luncheon at the Doubletree Inn attended by nearly 500 community business leaders, non-profit executives, parents, volunteers and mentors — who were told they will be vital to student success.

The district plans to implement “a gift of time,” holding back third graders who can’t read. This fall it will open Harrison High School Preparatory Academy to provide intensive instruction and tutoring for 120 at-risk 8th graders.  

Harrison, where more than 70 percent of  students are from low income families and the graduation rate is around 67 percent, is setting a high bar that few urban districts have reached.

Superintendent Mike Miles told the group,” We can’t just tweak the system. We will be rocking some worlds and upsetting some apple carts to do it.”

The district is known for bold initiatives, some of which have generated controversy.

During the last five year plan, the district got off state academic probation, got rid of teachers deemed ineffective and adopted a pay-for-performance system that compensates based on how well students do.

“We have much more to do,” Miles said, brushing aside the notion that most at-risk students are doomed to failure. Instead, he emphasized there would be no excuses and that district students will succeed.

He said community stakeholders would be important partners in the new plan, including helping pay for the first  year of college for students who earn diplomas.

Parental support will be vital. “We will insist that parents do three things and we will do the rest,” he said. Those requirements are getting their children to school and on time; provide time and a quiet place for homework, and reading with them daily. “There will be no excuses, not ‘I work two jobs,’ not anything.”

The audience responded with much applause to that and other goals, especially the promise to retain children who can’t read.

Later, John Gudvangen, a college financial aid officer and former  board member of both D-2 and Colorado Springs School District 11, said he liked the emphasis that academic privilege should have no boundaries. “The kids east of Highway 115 (Harrison District) should have the same opportunities as those west of Highway 115.” (The Broadmoor area.)

Kaila Arredondo, who is in the Air Force, said the plan is encouraging. “At first I was shocked when I heard about holding kids back, but it is better than pushing them through. We moved into D-2 because of some of their special programs.”

Davina McMillan, who has a six year-old daughter in a district school, also praised retention.  “When I was in I school I was pushed along when I shouldn’t have been. I’m 27 and just got my GED and graduated from dental assistant school. “

She added, “What they said is what I want for my daughter, graduating from college.”

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