Friday, September 27, 2013

Spring Branch ISD pushes for post-graduation objective

REPRINTED from Houston Chronicle's Ultimate Memorial
By Annette Baird | September 24, 2013

A sense of urgency pervades Spring Branch Independent School District as it pursues an ambitious goal to double the number of students completing technical certification, military training or a two-year or four-year degree by 2017.

A year into the pledge made by Superintendent Duncan Klussmann, the district is investing time and resources at every level, from kindergarten to 12th grade and from staff development to accountability, to reach a 72 percent completion rate under what is known as "T-2-4," a name in which the "T" stands for technical training and the numbers for the years required for associate or undergraduate degrees. "The spirit of the goal is to get kids in the marketplace, to have good jobs and be productive and doing something they like," said Elliot Whitney, the district's executive director of strategic initiatives and innovation and the coordinator of the effort.

For instance, more tools and support systems to boost literacy have been put in place in elementary schools because reading fluency in lower grades has been shown to predict success in college.

The focus in middle school is on discipline, attendance and rigor, also predictors of later success.

In high school, the district has boosted counseling departments to ensure every senior has one-on-one guidance regarding post-high school career endeavors.

Also, a pipeline has been established to groom aspiring staff members as leaders, and an accountability system has been developed to measure what and how well students are doing.

It falls on the graduating class of 2011 to hit the 72 percent mark first.

However, Whitney said it is tricky to draw a true comparison between the 2011 graduating class and the 2004 graduating class from which the 36 percent baseline was drawn.

The 2004 percentage comes from the National Student Clearing House, which only tracks students completing two- or four-year college degrees. Graduates from 2004 who went into the military or to a technical college were not tracked, though Whitney thinks that the number in those career paths was small.

A graduating class from one year may include students from the previous year who delayed going to college, he said. In addition, Whitney said issues exist with keeping track of those without documentation, which includes a substantial number of the district's high school students, he said.

Spring Branch's enrollment is 35,000.

Whitney believes the 72 percent mark is attainable. He cited the progress the district was making before T-2-4 was put in place. Forty-three percent of the graduating class of 2005 completed some form of post-secondary education, while the class of 2006 was at 44 percent.

School board president Pam Goodson believes the district is on the right track, but cited the challenges of being a pioneer district with no models to reference and the loss in 2011 of $37 million in state funding, resulting in larger classes and fewer support staff members. "There is much more work to be done," Goodson said in an email.


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