Graduation rates on the rise in the South-Western City Schools District

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By Dedra Cordle
Staff Writer

The overall graduation rate continues to trend upward in the South-Western City Schools District.

According to Dr. Brian Bowser, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum, early data shows that 88.41 percent of the students in the class of 2021 have graduated, up slightly from the 87.5 percent of the class from the years prior.

“That is an all-time high for this district,” he reported at a recent board of education meeting.

He later added that while that figure is lower than where the district would like to be, the continued growth from years past is a positive indicator of the progress that is being made.

Dr. Erik Shuey, the district’ executive director of high schools, said the positive trend can be partially attributed to intervention programs that are designed to help students who are struggling academically.

“We have implemented credit recovery programs which allows the student to make up for lost credits and we have student support liaisons to help those students along the way,” he said.

Shuey also said that technology has played a vital role in helping the district find students who are falling behind, using that data to help them “where they are at” so they can provide resources to assist them along the way to educational recovery.

“We are able to find, in real-time, who needs help and how we can provide it to them,” he said. “That is a wonderful tool for us to use.”

He also added that each high school has career readiness advisors with I Know I Can who can provide additional resources and intervention when needed.

While the district is celebrating an all-time high for its graduation rate, officials said more has to be done to raise the overall rates and percentages at individual schools.

According to the 2020-21 data pulled from the Ohio Department of Education’s school report card website, Central Crossing graduated 90.3 percent of its class, Grove City graduated 90.8 percent, Franklin Heights graduated 83.1 percent, and Westland graduated 84.4 percent.

When asked about the lower percentage of graduates at Franklin Heights and Westland, Shuey said these schools have different demographics and needs than their counterparts across the city. He mentioned that Westland has the highest percentage of students who identify as English Language Learners, which can sometimes contribute to learning gaps.

Shuey said the district continues to work on narrowing both those learning gaps and the graduation rate gap between the four high schools.

Future graduating classes were also discussed at the board meeting, specifically the changes they will see with graduation requirements on the horizon.

The class of 2022 will continue on its current course, while there will be variations for the class of 2023 and beyond.

For its part, the district will require 21 credits to graduate. Students will also be required to take a half-credit course in financial literacy, which is mandated by the state. Bowser said the district has already been offering financial literacy courses, but they plan to provide “more robust” implementation components for its students.

The state is allowing several pathways with its long-term graduation requirements. In addition to the district’s standard credits, the state will also require future graduates to demonstrate competency on the state’s tests, meaning they would have to score a minimum of 684 on Algebra I and English Language Arts II.

Should students be unable to demonstrate competency with those tests, they can choose an alternative pathway toward graduation with a remediation free score on the ACT or SAT, military enlistment, or college credit plus and career readiness programs.

Another graduation pathway allowable by the state is a demonstration of readiness via state and locally defined diploma seals. Under the requirements, students will have to earn two seals – it could either be two state seals or one state seal and one locally defined seal. According to Shuey, it cannot be two locally defined seals.

The state defined seals are: OhioMeansJobs readiness, biliteracy, an industry recognized credential, a college ready seal, or military enlistment. Additional seals include science, honors diploma, technology, and citizenship.

The locally defined seals are community service, fine and performing arts, and student engagement. To earn a community service seal, the class of 2025 and beyond will have to complete 80 hours of community service, or 20 hours per year. The class of 2023 and 2024 can also receive this seal with prorated hours of 40 hours and 60 hours, respectively.

Shuey said the seal will have to be completed with an approved charitable organization, which is preferably located and registered as a non-profit in the state.

To earn a fine and performing arts seal, students must earn at least two credits of approved fine arts electives in one or more of the following disciplines: visual arts, dance, drama/theater, music or media arts during high school. A seal can also be earned by participating in two full seasons of a board approved fine and performing arts extracurricular activity or two drama or musical performances. Additional allowances include receiving an excellent or superior rating in an Ohio Music Education Association solo and/or ensemble event; an art submission of any local, state, or national art show that receives an award or special commendation; or participate in a minimum of two performances (drama or musical anytime over four years), serving in the capacity of cast member, tech crew or stage crew.

To earn a student engagement seal, students must have at least 40 hours of documented participation in board approved extracurricular activities during high school or 20 hours for students who transfer to the district for their senior year. Eligible activities include interscholastic sports, marching band, cheerleading, JROTC, show choir, student government, or seal eligible school clubs.

Bowser said while changes will be coming to the state’s graduation requirements, he believes the district can continue its upward trend of improving its graduation rate.

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