As the Hermiston School District works to improve its graduation rates, it will intensify its focus on students still a few years from receiving a diploma.
“We tend to be reactive, especially with kids struggling,” said Hermiston High School Principal Tom Spoo. “The goal here is to try and be proactive.”
One step in that direction is the creation of a graduation coordinator position, funded by money coming into the school from Measure 98, and hiring 2004 Hermiston graduate Omar Medina for the job.
Medina said the specifics of his role at the high school, which started at the beginning of this school year, are still being determined. He has spent his first few weeks studying Measure 98 and working with the counselors to get recommendations for students to work with.
Measure 98 was approved by voters in 2016 and provides funding to increase graduation rates by expanding high school programs in three areas: career and technical education, college-level education opportunities, and dropout-prevention strategies. State funds are alloted to school districts based on the school’s average daily membership (weighted), or enrollment. For the 2017-2018 school year, school districts were required to submit written requests to the Oregon Department of Education detailing how they would allocate their funds. In the years after, districts will have to submit a biennial plan, identifying ways they will address the three main tenets of Measure 98.
Spoo said he hoped Medina’s role will help pick up some of the students who might otherwise get missed in a big school. Currently, Hermiston High School has 1,677 students enrolled.
“I don’t want kids to get lost,” he said. “Omar will probably have time to work with some juniors and seniors, too. We absolutely believe this is a sustainable position.”
The 2015-2016 graduation rate for the Hermiston School District, which included Hermiston High School and the now-defunct Innovative Learning Center, was 65.68 percent, below the state average of 74.8 percent. Hermiston High School’s graduation rate by itself was 87.6 percent.
The Innovative Learning Center has been dissolved and absorbed back into the high school, but the online courses will still be available to students. That facility had a graduation rate of 4.08 percent, but school officials noted that graduation was not the goal for all students in that program, with many working toward a GED or modified diploma. The completion rate for that program was 37.8 percent.
Medina said he expects his work will vary from student to student, and will rely somewhat on data that shows which students need the most help.
“I think the focus will be on freshmen and sophomores,” Medina said. “We’re really trying to not let them get to the point where they’re juniors and seniors, and realize they need to do credit retrieval. We’re helping them get engaged in the first two years of school.”
Medina said he will be helping students with goal-setting activities, assessing what they want to do after they graduate, and helping them understand what they need to do while they’re still in high school to get to that point. He acknowledged that while college may not be the goal for all students, a high school diploma or GED is now required for many fields.
Spoo noted that while the results of Medina’s work may not be seen right away, he expects the long-term effects of having a graduation coordinator to be obvious.
“We’re trying to see the number of disengaged students drop,” Medina said. “And the number of students dropping out of school go down.”
“If we see a reduction of kids getting pulled into credit recovery, or kids getting their parents called — if we see that, we’re absolutely being successful. But it will probably take a couple of years.”
Medina received a Master of Social Work from George Fox University, and spent time working in the Reynolds School District doing dropout prevention and gang prevention. He also worked for Northwest Family Services, and as a case manager for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Even before Medina’s position was created, administrators discussed the importance of catching students early and trying to recover credits before they fall too far behind. Medina will zero in on that goal.
“I hope to do consistent check-ins, and get to know what’s going on with the students,” he said. “We also need to realize that attendance and school performance are tied to home life. Are their needs being met?”
Medina said he hopes to be able to work with students and their parents, and help both understand what they need to do to succeed.
“In some cases, it might be as much about educating the parents as educating the child,” Spoo said.
“It’s really exciting to be able to help support the whole high school,” Medina said.
Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or firstname.lastname@example.org