Raising graduation rate tough for high school

By Christina Calloway
Senior writer

Portales schools administration plans to give more control to local school principals in an effort to grow math scores and other areas of improvement identified in the recently released school grades issued by the state Public Education Department.
While several schools across the district celebrated high marks, Lindsey-Steiner Elementary and Portales Junior High received Ds.
Portales schools Superintendent Johnnie Cain said he wants to empower principals in identifying the needs of their schools.
“We’re going to give more local control to those principals,” he said.

In all but one category, Portales Junior High was below the state average. Those categories include the growth of the highest-performing and lowest-performing students.
Portales Schools Director of Instruction David Van Wettering said he identified math to be a trouble area for the junior high. PED grades show the number of junior high’s students proficient in math is 34 percent, while at Lindsey-Steiner the figure is 37 percent.

“Math at both schools in the number of kids who are proficient and above has been the weakest area,” Van Wettering said. “We did a lot of professional development this year.”
The new assessment tests teachers will use this school year will also be an asset for improvement, according to Cain, because it will allow teachers to make better decisions in their lessons while helping students to adjust to new Common Core standards.

Portales High School maintained a B, but showed improvement. The high school was given As for both growth in the highest and lowest performing students.
The school also excelled in the college and career readiness and Cain plans to build that area up through offering a variety of career development courses, which already include media arts and agriculture classes.

Despite growth in students, Van Wettering said raising the graduation rate of the high school, which is currently at 81 percent, is one of the most difficult goals for the school’s staff.
Van Wettering said the staff uses a number of tools to address the graduation rate, which he says is often affected by truancy, including academic counseling and parent meetings.

“There’s a laundry list of things we do to help the kids’ graduation rate,” Van Wettering said.
Cain added the school’s staff is also trying to reduce the amount of dropouts through credit recovery programs and the Portales Night School.
Valencia Elementary’s grade jumped from a C last year to a B, with 61 percent of student being proficient or advanced in reading and nearly 50 percent being proficient in math.

Van Wettering said those areas improved from last year and reached above the state average. He also said reading and math were focus areas for that school and attributes growth in that area to the school receiving a B in the growth of lowest performing students.