The Anchorage School District has long been struggling to get more students to graduate from high school, with only slight improvement.
Last year, the rate of students graduating jumped three and half percentage points overall for ASD. Bartlett High School is leading the way.
Brian Jones was typical of many students at Bartlett, in that he’d switched schools a lot and fallen behind. The lanky 19-year-old with black-rimmed glasses started out at Service, then moved to Fairbanks and ended up back in Anchorage at Bartlett for 12th grade. By then he needed to do all his senior year classes plus make up one and half credits.
“I was behind in English, History and I hadn’t [taken] a gym class yet,” Jones said.
Jones says he was able to graduate because of an online credit recovery program called Apex, which was available to him on demand. He used the program to make up the classes, fitting in online work in between his regular classes.
“It was very helpful because it was like a second chance to make up for mistakes of my freshman and sophomore year,” Jones said.
Bartlett High has struggled with a high dropout rate. In 2011, the percent of students graduating from Bartlett was about 68 percent. The percentage dropping out, basically just disappearing from school, hit nearly 10 percent. The other 22 percent of students either left the district or were staying in high school longer than four years to graduate.
“We had our graduation coaches go out into the community,” Bartlett Principal Dan Gallego said. “Find our dropout kids and then literally bring them back to school.”
He also made two other big changes. One was expanding the Apex online credit recovery program that Jones used, making it available to students all day so that students like him, who had fallen behind could more easily catch up.
They also provided more structure for freshman so, hopefully, they wouldn’t find themselves falling behind in the first place.
“We decided to develop a 9th Grade Academy so we can transition those middle school kids into high school life,” Gallego said.
Gallego says studies show 9th grade truancy is linked to dropping out.
“We identified that we were losing a lot of freshman,” Gallego said. “And they would be truant and they would fail a lot of courses.”
The school now separates 9th graders from the upper classman and they are not allowed to leave campus during school hours.
Last Spring the first class that went all the way through high school, beginning with the Freshman Academy, graduated. The school’s dropout rate fell by more than half – to 4 percent and the graduation rate jumped.
Ed Graff, Superintendent of the Anchorage School District says the improvements at Bartlett are notable.
“So what I think we have there is we really have created a culture or a system of support for students and that’s where I would attribute a lot of the success to their graduation increases,” Graff said.
But Graff says lots of other things are also contributing to school’s success.
They’ve implemented targeted instruction – basically teaching to each student at their learning-level, spearheaded a social and emotional learning initiative and provided experiential learning opportunities for students, among other things. He doesn’t want to take a cookie cutter approach, buy Graff says they are watching Bartlett closely.
“It’s a positive thing,” he said. “We are looking at why they are doing so well there and trying to find those targeted practices that are occurring.”
Principal Gallego says he hopes graduation rates at Bartlett continue to climb, but he’s worried that will be difficult without two graduation coaches, who were let go during the last round of budget cuts.
Graduate Brian Jones says walking across the stage on graduation day last spring is a feeling he won’t forget.
“It’s hard to explain. It’s just you know when they call your name up and you grab your diploma and you’re walking across the stage and you shake Mr. Gallego’s hand and you know all the teachers and stuff like that. It just feels pretty amazing. That four years down the road, you finally did it,” Jones said.
Jones has a retail job at the Dimond Mall. He’s saving for college and plans to enroll in UAA to study journalism.