One step closer to reaching graduation goal
District representatives and school administrators celebrate reaching an 82.9% graduation rate at a press conference.
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As of Jan. 10, Hillsborough County Public School’s (HCPS) graduation has increased from 79.1% in 2016 to 82.9% in 2017. With over a 3% increase in the students’ graduation rate in the past year, HCPS in on track to reach its goal of 90% graduation among high school students by 2020.
With more opportunities to pass the reading benchmark and the Algebra 1 End of Course exam than any previous years, and “boot camps” offered after school and on Saturdays, school district representatives and administration are optimistic about the path to graduation. But more than just the opportunity to retake exams, the main goal is to engage students in the process.
“It’s really about students figuring out what works best for them. It’s about getting them involved because it’s the students’ education, so the adults are there to teach, instruct, support, lead and guide but ultimately [the students] have to own it,” HCPS Superintendent Jeff Eakins said. “We’ve got to get students more engaged on why graduation is important for them and that next thing they want to do. Because school is all about doing this stuff right now, but it leads to something.”
HHS has already started trying to make education more accessible, even including student engagement as one of their main three instructional goals. “There’s days that you have to lecture, there’s days that you have to use a PowerPoint, but we still want to make it as student-centered as possible,” Principal Gary Brady said.
To Brady, this is about more than academics. “I think kids need to connect at least with one person. That’s where the teachers come in,” he said. “I challenged [the teachers] to pick two kids in their class that they’re going to personally engage with, not just talk, but actually build a relationship.”
Teachers have already started making the extra effort to meet Brady’s challenge. Economics teacher Andres Flores was deemed one of the “champion teachers” for his improved pass rates. He credits his success with test scores to letting the students take control in the classroom.
“A lot of is looking at our school goals as a whole and internalizing those goals and thinking about how I can take those goals and get them to meet what my students need,” Flores said. “Always have in the back of your mind how your students are going to show you what you want them to know and always try to get them to show you that they’re thinking.”
This approach has already made a difference for senior Ariona Hall, who discovered her passion for JROTC because of leadership from one of her teachers. “He helped me have more interest in the program because I didn’t have it before. He encouraged me and rewarded me and told me to do my best and boom, I’m here and I love it,” she said.
Hall went from disinterested in the program to being a Cadet Raider, a position she never thought she would hold. “When I started out I thought I’d just get by but he actually told me what I needed to go to practice and that’s what motivated me,” she said.
If students are given every opportunity to succeed on their tests, and are provided with an engaging curriculum early on, Eakins is confident that with time, graduation rates will improve. “It’s trying to work with students early on, that’s why we’re starting to monitor our freshmen and their GPA as they end the year,” he said.
While these plans are supposed to improve graduation rates, they’re about more than just a test score. “It’s awesome because a lot of time when you’re teaching high school you never know what’s going to stick and who’s going to take what you say to heart so when you get somebody that recognizes that and you get to see that they’re succeeding then that’s an awesome feeling,” said English teacher Joe Kelly.
With continued effort from both the students and administrators, the goal of a 90% graduation rate by 2020 might just be attainable.