Ashland School District sees positives in graduation rate despite decline

State data released last week show Ashland High Schools graduation rate was down slightly in 2020-21 from the prior year. Click on link at the bottom of the article for a high-resolution version of the above graph, or the "the numbers" link in the second paragraph for the Excel document with numbers for the whole state.
January 26, 2022

Ashland High School aims to bring back night school, improve rate

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

As teachers, staff and students prepare to return to in-person classes on Monday, an Ashland School District official reflected on graduation rates for 2020-21 at Ashland High School released last week, which show a slight decline from the prior school year.

Christine McCollum serves as director of programs and instruction for Ashland School District, essentially overseeing the curriculum for grades K-12. McCollom shared with Ashland.news that the district is proud of its 91.24% graduation rate, even if the numbers are down slightly from 93.97% from the prior year. With the toll of the pandemic and the inconsistency in education models, McCollom believes all involved did as well as they could.

“Ashland has always had a really strong graduation rate and our goal is to get every single student to graduate always,” McCollom said, noting the rate has been in the mid-90% on average for some time. “We are happy with 91%, especially given all the challenges that our kids and our teachers were facing over the last year. It was a lot, especially last year’s class. They were online most of the year and then they came back into hybrid mode, and it was just, it was crazy.”

McCollom praised students for their resiliency and staff members for making it work. She said staff will continue to reach out to students who didn’t complete the needed credits within four years.

“We have 18 students that didn’t make it last year,” she said, out of a class (or “cohort”) of 218 students

McCollom said Ashland High School Principal Ben Bell and Dean of Students Glenna Stiles presented a proposal for a high school continuation center/GED (high school diploma equivalency) program on Monday, asking that the district bring back a night school program to complete their requirements. The Ashland School Board will hear more about the option at their next regular virtual board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 14.

McCollom said many students who were unable to finish their school requirements on time work or have other commitments, making a full-time day program to recover their credits hard to do.

“Our five-year graduation rate, we always usually capture some more students that way, but our goal is 100%,” she said.

McCollom also noted of last year’s graduation rates that noticeable downward trends in the graduation rates students for students who are English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, houseless, and/or are from a different racial/ethnic group.

“We noticed that trend and provided some extra supports this year for our Language Learning program with additional teaching staff, additional instructional assistant support, and new research-based curriculum to make sure that those students are getting the instruction and the support that they need to be successful,” she said.

Ashland School District, not unlike other districts, faced obstacles keeping students engaged in online learning, especially while students were distance learning, because of the virtual platform that is used.

While some students have a parent or guardian at home during school hours, McCollom emphasized many did not and there was a chance that students would opt not to participate in a virtual class, unbeknownst to the teacher, even if it looked like they were doing so.

Then there was the possibility that students who were engaged on Zoom had a parent who was working remotely on Zoom as well and was unable to ask them for any help. McCollom, whose whole family was “Zoom-ing” from different rooms in the house at one point last year, recalls how hard that was.

“It’s really different to support your child on Zoom when you’re supposed to be working on your Zoom,” she said. “And we had the luxury of being able to work from home, which is not the case for a lot of parents.”

McCollom emphasized that teachers, staff and administrators tried their best to engage students and to reach out to those who were not engaging, but essentially, couldn’t force students to attend school online. 

From sending pizzas to students at home to hosting Zoom dances; emailing, calling, and making home visits, McCollom said the list of ways the staff tried to reach students during distance learning is long.

“The students that were able to show up on a regular basis, most of them did really pretty OK, but there were some students who didn’t and who weren’t able to reach for stretches at a time and that’s not good for anybody,” she said. “There’s no blame for that. Parents did the best that they could … They really tried to maintain connections and be creative in the environment they were in but it was a challenge.”

While there were certainly setbacks and challenges throughout the 2020-21 school year, McCollom said one perk was being able to bring a number of students on campus during limited in-person instruction, including students in special education, English as a Second Language, or students without access to the internet.

“I think we have to give them so much credit for how hard they’ve worked, to hang with all of the changes to just get along as best they can just like the grownups,” McCollom. “They’ve missed a lot and not any of it isn’t their fault. We’re trying to provide opportunities for them to get caught up but things are still not normal.”

As in-person learning returns, McCollom expressed excitement to have students in the halls and classrooms again, as well as gratitude for recovery time for those who were sick. At one time, there were 20 staff members who were sick or exposed to COVID-19 when the district announced the pause, according to an announcement made by Superintendent Samuel Bognadove.

“The reason why we went on that pause is because we had so many staff that had cases or exposures so we really couldn’t safely run school (in-person),” McCollom said.

“I think having the high school closed for those 10 days, we were able to share a few high school staff with some of the elementary schools and keep them open.”

To continue following school happenings, watch the Ashland School Board’s virtual work session at 7 p.m. Monday about the school’s bond.

Link here to hi-resolution version of image at top of article. Email Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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