ROCK SPRINGS — Overall student achievement levels and improved graduation rates were the major topics of discussion during a workshop held by the Sweetwater County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees this week.
Trustee John Bettolo spearheaded the conversation after researching the graduation rate at Rock Springs High School since he became a board member, as well as the dropout rate among students in the district.
Bettolo said his research shows that statistically RSHS has always had a graduation rate right around 75 percent. But he’d like to see that change.
“I just think there are some things we can do proactively that might allow us to help kids be a little more successful earlier,” Bettolo said.
Administrators and department heads from grades 4-6, Rock Springs Junior High School, Black Butte High School and RSHS were asked to address the current state of progress at their respective schools and share ideas about how to make things better.
Rock Springs High School
Principal Glenn Suppes told the group that the implementation of three new “graduation coaches” will specifically focus on “at-risk seniors” that have been identified prior to the 2022-2023 school year.
He said guided study halls have been established to help those seniors fill holes in their schedules so they can work one-on-one with their graduation coach. Suppes said RSHS is looking to limit those study halls to about 10-12 students in an effort to provide them with focused attention.
“With that we are already looking at the credits their deficient in, and we’ve already started planning for our Friday schools,” Suppes said. “Friday schools are an opportunity for us to provide credit recovery for those students who are still needing to pass classes.”
Suppes said the students will be “sat down in front of the priority standards that they need to be able to demonstrate proficiency on” and if they can, they’ll earn the credit for that class.
“Our seniors are important, but we also need to catch them as freshman,” Suppes said.
The freshman will be broken out into “pods” of about 100 students each and they’ll work with an interventionist to identify their strengths and start working on their career plans.
“We’re focusing very heavily on how we can get the seniors caught up quickly identify the freshmen and get them the support that they need,” Suppes said.
Black Butte High School
Principal Bryant Blake said his staff has been focused on their intervention block and using its graduation coach to help reach student goals. He said BBHS is small school where kids can’t “run and hide” but they sometimes have difficulty getting students to stay around for after school programs.
“But we have that intervention block during the day and it’s been a really successful thing,” Blake said.
Rock Springs Junior High School
Principal Kris Cundall told the group that last year the school set a goal to start “building grit and resilience with students. She said students sometimes take the easy way out and don’t benefit from the lessons of hard work.
She her staff has been working hard on reducing the number of F grades students receive because they have significantly deeper consequences at the high school level and they do in junior high.
Every core teacher at RSJH will be assigned to a team and every student will then be assigned to a specific team for their core classes. The elective classes will also have a separate team and they will feed him to the core team as it suits them.
Cundall said the goal for this process is to get easier for teachers to build better relationships with students.
“They’re going to be dealing with the same number of students, but they’re going to be working with teachers who have the same kids in a cross-curricular (professional learning community),” she said. “So conversations will be able to driven by data looking at the kids and building relationships with those kids.”
Cundall also said students will be setting short and long-term goals throughout the year to help them understand the importance of achieving standards they set for themselves.
Eastside Elementary principal Tina Searle said that her school and Pilot Butte Elementary work side-by-side in a checks and balance strategy to a plan and keep each other motivated.
She said purposeful planning and meaningful PLC time has resulted in “co-taught class” students are out performing in other areas of the curriculum. She added that the four-day school week structure has allowed her staff follow-through implementation, monitoring and reflection of student progress.
Peer-mentoring from high school students has also proven to be a successful program for the 4-6 grade students at Eastside and Pilot.
“What has been built over the last four years is their confidence and their self-esteem,” Searle said. “In fact some of our at-risk kids have had the courage to say ‘I’m only coming to school because my high school mentor is coming today’.”
Pilot Butte Principal Nancy Torstenbo said its important for the district to stay united in the common goal of student achievement “because there’s a level of understanding when you’re on the same page to create a vision and mission together.” She also encouraged district administrators and the Board of Trustees to support each other’s philosophies about improving education and being advocates to the community.
Trustee Max Mickelson said it’s imperative that the district get parents or guardians involved in the discussion because they’re the closest to the source.
“We can build the biggest horse trough on the planet, but if the parents aren’t getting the kids to it, it’s going to make your jobs so much harder.” Mickelson said.
Board chairwoman Carol Jelaco said while doing board self-evaluations, this is an area when the trustees need to improve. A workshop like the one held this week helps lay the groundwork for reaching common goals of student engagement.
“Clearly there are some excellent things moving forward, and we want to be supportive of those things,” Jelaco said.