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Graduates on the rise

Park High School increases graduation rates

Enterprise photo by Shawn Raecke

Landi Wilson, left, a senior at Park High School, and Aja Shada, right, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer talk about the school’s program, “Graduation Matters,” during a pep assembly at Park High on Friday.



EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first installment in a three-part series on the Livingston School District’s Graduation Matters program, an initiative launched in 2012 to help more students finish high school.


School and community efforts to improve graduation rates at Park High School over the last couple years appear to be paying off. 

This month — two years after the district formed the Graduation Matters coalition to help more students graduate — Park High celebrates receiving a much-improved report card from the state, according to Principal Lynne Scalia.

The school’s graduation rate increased 10 percent last year — about 85 percent of PHS seniors graduated in the 2012-13 school year, up from about 75 percent the year before, according to the 2013 graduation and dropout report issued Feb. 4 by the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

Park High’s graduation rate is now higher than the state average, the report states. And the school’s dropout rate decreased in that time from 8.4 percent to 4 percent.

Another academic victory at Park High, according to Scalia, is the fact that 15 percent more students completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid last year, indicating more students are considering going to college.

Of the current senior class, more than 90 percent of students have already applied for college, community college, or training and apprenticeship programs, Scalia said. 

Livingston School District Superintendent Rich Moore applauded the recent results.

“It’s a great leading indicator that we are on the right path,” Moore said.

Moore also said he is “very, very pleased” with the efforts of Park High administration and staff in recent years. 

He said he appreciates that administrators and staff are breaking away from what they have always done and being “bold enough to venture into the unknown.” 

Moore added, “The most exciting thing that I see is that the faculty is talking about individual students.”


Every student counts

Park High now tracks students on a one-on-one basis, watching for early signs that a student is having trouble and intervening while there is still hope, Moore said.

A database now alerts school officials to “at risk” students as early as the seventh grade, Scalia said. 

This database looks at grades, credits, attendance, socio-economic status and many other factors to assess whether or not a student is at risk of dropping out in the future. 

When a Park High student shows moderate risk, teachers and counselors meet with that student to discuss a personalized way to get them back on track, Scalia said.

If a student shows high risk, administrators, counselors and teachers will schedule meetings with that student and their parents to come up with a more intensive personalized plan to help that student succeed academically, Scalia said.

Teachers also make weekly efforts to increase an individual student’s sense of belonging, according to Aja Shada, an AmeriCorps VISTA dedicated to the district’s Graduation Matters Coalition. 

This could involve having lunch with a particular student, sending them a note, or just asking them how they are doing, Shada said.

There is no one formula for helping an at-risk student, according to Shada.

Some students who come from challenging backgrounds need frequent, extreme support until they feel empowered, she said.

“It’s not hand-holding, but helping them up until they have the skills to stand on their own,” she added.


Many facets

The Graduation Matters coalition began by bringing several groups together — students, parents, counselors, teachers and community members — and asking wide-open questions such as, “Where do we want students to be?” and “How do we meet them where they are and attempt to help them take themselves as far as they can go?” Scalia said. 

Frequent personalized intervention with high-risk students is just one of many strategies resulting from the coalition’s ongoing brainstorming sessions, Scalia said.

Other ideas include exploring an educational redesign of Park High School and collaborating with community programs to prepare students of all ages for graduation and beyond, she said. 

The second and third parts of this series will look at these other projects.


Rose Brown may be reached at rbrown@livent.net or (406) 222-2000.