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District is committed to higher grad rates
By CLAYTON WILCOX
Published December 11, 2007
Recently, the St. Petersburg Times published an article based on a Department of Education report, using data supplied by Pinellas County schools. Our errors in producing a graduation report to the state and then failing to move with any urgency to correct those mistakes led to the publication of a graduation rate for the school district that was wrong. And, while the process of reporting graduation rates is complex, other districts do it routinely and so should we. All of us fully understand that our graduation rates are key statistics used the public to judge our performance.
Our initial report omitted 274 May graduates of Osceola High and included a number of other small errors at many of our high schools. We have corrected the error for Osceola High, and we are correcting the small number of errors made across the district. Accurate graduation rates for all of our high schools soon will be posted on our Web site for community review.
We are working hard within the school system to ascertain exactly what happened in our data collection and reporting processes last year. I pledge to you that we will do everything possible to validate not only the data itself but also the methods used to compile it. The changes that may be required to collect and report accurate data will be made immediately - both at the school and district level.
Regardless of compiling errors or reporting errors, we understand that the bottom line is that anything less than a 100 percent student graduation rate is unacceptable for the families and businesses of Pinellas County. It is the responsibility of all of us within the school system to prepare students to leave school with an education and a diploma assuring our community that our students are capable and ready to be successful, productive citizens.
We are committed to improving the services we deliver to this community's young people and their families. We have significant challenges ahead of us, and we have not shied away from these challenges nor have we failed to address them in an open and transparent manner.
We are, in fact, doing something that never has been attempted in American education before: educating every child to very high levels. Until the mid '70s, graduation rates had roughly tracked the decades - during the '40s the graduation rate of American high schools was roughly 40 percent, during the '50s the graduation rate was in the 50s and on through the '60s until the mid '70s when graduation rates peaked in the low 70s.
To jump-start our graduation rates, we have begun some promising new initiatives in Pinellas County.
We have invested in high school reform. We have embraced more rigorous and relevant course work. We have created smaller learning communities to allow students to develop skills in a real-world environment and build a sense of community that translates into a sense of belonging and academic achievement. We have expanded our honors and advanced placement course offerings, and we have increased the number of dual-enrollment options. We also are building on the success of our academy-based learning projects, launching new Centers of Excellence that are targeted to improved graduation rates, award industry-based certification and provide real-world experiences in the world of work.
We have expanded successful high school programs - such as creating the new fundamental high school at Osceola High. We have expanded our partnership with St. Petersburg College, opening the Early College Program on the SPC Clearwater campus to complement St. Petersburg Collegiate High on the SPC St. Petersburg Campus. We have welcomed the creation of new charter schools across the district to benefit high school students.
These activities and many more demonstrate our commitment to helping our young people graduate from high school in ever greater numbers. We are absolutely committed to improving on our past performance and we will leave no stone unturned in providing this community's young people the opportunity to walk with their classmates at graduation.
Each of us in Pinellas County schools takes very seriously the privilege and responsibility for educating children. I believe we are headed in the right direction, and I believe we are doing the right things to help children become more successful.
Clayton M. Wilcox, Ed.D, is superintendent of the Pinellas County School District.