Lakewood gets a doctorate in going the extra mile to help kids graduate

LAKEWOOD – The Lakewood School District has become a master at graduating its seniors – with more than 90 percent making the grade the past two years.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

In 2014-15, Lakewood was just a little bit better than the state average at 77.9 percent, improving to 86.6 percent the next year and 90.1 percent in 2016-17.

To compare, Marysville schools graduate 74.8 percent within four years, 77.5 percent in five years. Arlington graduates 77.9 percent in four years, 84.3 percent in five. The national average is about 75 percent, with the state average now at 79.1 percent.

Lakewood superintendent Michael Mack said to improve they first had to realize there was a problem.

“The state average was not where we wanted to be,” he said.

That first year, administrators, counselors and teachers formed a team to come up with a plan to “lift up the seniors” so they could get the required credits to graduate. They each took three or four students individually, found out their histories, talked to their parents, and found out what they could immediately do to help.

“Just paying attention helped but it wasn’t the answer,” he said.

They looked at classes the student didn’t pass and decided what work needed to be done to earn that credit. Students would do the work anytime they could: mornings, nights, weekends, etc.

One problem at Lakewood is it doesn’t have an alternative school.

“There’s not place for them to go but us,” he said.

So the next year they looked at online programs that many alternative schools offer. They also started looking at juniors so they would have more time to make up the credits. They also started a summer school.

The program has kept growing with even more success. The next year summer school was even bigger and tutors were hired to help during the school year. This year’s goal is to graduate at 92 percent.

Mack said being a small district helps. They can get to know the kids and figure out a good match to help them. For some, that means switching to the Open Doors program with the Arlington School District. But that can be a challenge.

“Kids really like us,” he said. “They come to school every day and aren’t any trouble. But they don’t do anything.”

Mack said they will push back and promise they will do the work, but he has to convince them Open Doors is a better program for them.

Mack said one thing he has had to overcome is that a student must graduate in four years.

“I was fixated” on that, he said. “But what’s it matter if it’s four, five or six?”

The most important thing, he added, is that they feel good about their sense of accomplishment by graduating.

“That they chose to invest in me maybe more than I was invested in me,” Mack said.

He said Lakewood’s district has developed the philosophy to do “all those little things” that their families are unable to do.

For example, they might pick up a student and take them to take their SATs, even paying for it.

“Hey, we need to do this,” he said. “That’s what we do.”

Statewide statistics

•Asians graduate at the highest level at 86.5 percent. Native Americans graduate at 53.7 percent, homeless 46.1 percent and foster kids at 41.5 percent.

•Girls graduate at 81 percent, boys at 73.6 percent.

•The dropout average is 12.3 percent, with Native Americans at 26.6 percent and Asians at 6 percent.

•Boys drop out at 14 percent, girls at 10.5 percent.

•Reasons for dropping out include: Unknown 51.3 percent, unconfirmed transfers 25 percent, school not for me 7.2 percent.

•Advantages of graduating: Higher earnings, lower crime rate, better health.

-2015 annual report OSPI

Teacher negotiations

•Lakewood: Teachers on Wednesday are to ratify salary increases negotiated as an amendment to their present contract. School starts Sept. 5

•Arlington: The contract expires Friday at midnight. The school district and teachers were scheduled to negotiate Tuesday and Thursday. School starts Sept. 5.

•Marysville: A tentative agreement is to be ratified by teachers Thursday. First day of school Sept. 5.

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