SOUTH KINGSTOWN — On Tuesday night, the South Kingstown School Committee held a work session regarding methods to improve the yearly percentage of students graduating from the high school. Invited to speak were the high school’s administrators and teachers who specialize in helping at-risk students fulfill their graduation requirements.
According to Pauline Lisi, assistant superintendent of South Kingstown schools, the Class of 2014 will be the first required to meet minimum NECAP scores in order to graduate, which will present a challenge for some students, especially those identified as at risk for failing.
The first speaker, Dr. Kristin Klenk, assistant principal of South Kingstown High School and the school’s former PBGR (Proficiency-Based Graduation Requirements) coordinator, gave a historical perspective on how administrators identified students at-risk for not graduating. She said that in the past, low eighth grade NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) scores had been the predictor for failure to graduate from high school, but her group had determined that other factors were at play. She said that in addition to or replacing low NECAP scores, risk factors in ninth and tenth grade included failing math and/or English and incurring an excessive number of absences (between 25 percent and 33 percent). Other factors included having an IEP (Individualized Educational Program) and not taking advantage of portfolio support.
Next, Robert Young, assistant principal of South Kingstown High School, spoke about “Saturday School,” a new program designed to help students make up missed credits in time for graduation. He said that the program ran from February to June and students were able to make up math, social studies, English, physical education, and health credits.
“Because of Saturday School, 17 students walked on graduation day,” said Young, as school committee members and meeting attendees applauded.
In addition, Young said that Saturday School is taught four days a week as a traditional summer school from July 8 to Aug. 8.
Rose Majeika, director of guidance at South Kingstown High School, explained the “Credit Recovery” program which uses NovaNET, an online application that helps students make up the courses they need to graduate.
“We had over 40 students participate this year and the program enabled seniors to get on track to graduate,” she said.
She said that this Summer the program will also help some seniors who didn’t graduate in June earn the credits they need to receive their diplomas.
“We may be able to add more students to the 17 whom Rob spoke of,” she said.
Next, Heather Taylor, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) coordinator for South Kingstown High School, described the “Virtual Learning Math Modules” (VLMM) that helped at-risk students achieve proficiency in areas from pre-algebra to geometry. The program also includes test-taking strategies that helped students succeed on NECAP.
Breta Combs, Response to Intervention (RTI) coordinator for South Kingstown High School, explained that students who experience a lack of peer and adult connection are at higher risk for not graduating. Her group did a “connection survey” to identify those who students did not have social and emotional school connections and determined that 25 students were at risk.
Combs’ group also offers the “Building Academic Success” program that helps students work on executive function skills, which include planning, problem solving, and verbal reasoning, among others.
Melissa Chimento, director of literacy at South Kingstown High School, and Taylor talked about identifying students at-risk eighth graders from Curtis Corner Middle School who will receive extra help in math and English during the summer before they enter ninth grade.
“We will start with about 15 students over the summer and expand in the fall to include ninth and 10th graders. We have them for five weeks, starting July 8,” said Chimento.
In addition, Klenk said there will be “ramp-up” classes for NECAP and portfolio tasks.
“In August, we will run a one week class in reading and then one in math,” she said.
Young said that getting students to come to summer school isn’t always easy.
“What really gets them here is the one-on-one connection. They’re disengaged. Everybody’s different and we have to figure out what button to push,” he said.
“When they know someone here really cares, it spreads – it’s contagious,” he said.