D-2's graduation rate inches toward big 2016 goal

KRISTINA IODICE Updated: January 24, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 24, 2013

Superintendent Andre Spencer is on a mission to, by the year 2016, graduate 90 percent of his students and have 70 percent of them college and career ready.

It’s an ambitious goal for Harrison School District 2, but one that Spencer is convinced can be achieved in the diverse district that was once chronically plagued by academic problems.

Spencer, a former Houston Independent School District executive, took over the reins of Harrison earlier this month and outlined some of his goals Thursday at a news conference.

Statewide figures released Thursday by Colorado Department of Education, show that the district’s on-time graduation rate stood at 74.1 percent, only a tad lower than the state’s 75.4. And it was up from D-2's 2011's rate of 72.4 percent. The state dropout rate was 2.9 percent. In D-2 it was 3.1.

“We’ve only got 16 percent to go. We will get there,” Spencer said.

More than 70 percent of the D-2’s 10,775 students are impoverished. About two thirds are minorities. Lower income students, often minorities, have traditionally scored worse on state academic tests than their white peers and drop out of school in larger numbers.

But the D-2 philosophy is that all kids can learn. In fact, there is a “no excuses” policy for everyone from teachers to students.

Among the tools it is using to increase the graduation rate, Spencer said, are: extended days, additional tutoring, outside cultural events to dovetail with classroom learning, and supports such as health care, parental and community involvement. It is identifying additional resources and programs to ensure equity. “We are focusing on every student,” he said.

As part of the graduation effort, Spencer said he and other administrators and community volunteers will literally go door-to-door to convince up to 100 dropouts to return to school. The Come Back to HSD2 Walk will be 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 23. (Adult volunteers, including those who are bilingual can call the community services department to participate.)

Students they are hoping to lure back will be those who have not enrolled anywhere since leaving Harrison. The returning students will get graduation and college credits, and learn construction skills through home building projects. They will receive help getting jobs after graduating.

D-2 received a $250,000 grant to launch the project. Partners include Youth Transformation Center, E-cademy Learning Center and Career Building Academy.

The district also is partnering with community groups to find financial aid for D-2 graduates who want to go to college.

Spencer’s optimistic view of the 90 percent graduation plan, called Destination 2016, gels with the aggressive stance the district has taken to improve students’ academics. D-2 in the past several years has made its way off state academic probation by using cutting-edge and often controversial techniques, including a pay-for-performance system. It also holds back third and fifth graders until they can read at grade level. It created a High School Preparatory Academy to give eighth graders a repeat year to ready them for high school and thus hopefully a boost at hanging in for graduation.

Spencer says he supports those initiatives, and says more innovations are on the way.

“Our goal is a quality education for all our students.”

Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

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