The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Hurray for Another Good School!

on February 1, 2017

This morning I read an article in our local paper, the Oregonian, that made my day—and perhaps a whole week. The article, by Betsy Hammond, described what Oregon City High School has been doing to achieve a 94% graduate rate in 2016.


 Oregon City is a suburban, middle class town with approximately 35,000 people. Its basic industries are manufacturing and technology. Its local high school, with a little more than 2000 students, has always done well on test scores and graduation rates. But last year’s graduation rates make it outstanding, especially because Oregon as a whole is plagued by low rates.

In 2012 the school’s graduation rate was 86%, which was considered acceptable. But in 2016 the rate had risen to 94%, while the state rate was 75%. What happened?

In brief, the teachers had changed their attitudes and behavior toward students, and the school structure had developed some new practices that made it a more helpful and productive place for everyone.

According to the Oregonian article, everything started when the principal,Tom Lovell, told the faculty in a meeting that they had given 2,033 “F” grades to students the previous year. That worked out to be almost one “F” for every student.

After mulling over that shocking fact, the school staff dedicated itself to becoming a place where all students would succeed in their classes and graduate on time. The basic changes made were individual attention for struggling students, a school food pantry, free mental health therapy, and a credit catch-up program. Although all these changes have been beneficial to various students, the most significant change was creating a climate that provides teacher respect and friendliness to all students and personal attention to those who are not doing well in one or more classes or seem not very interested in school.

What have teachers done, specifically? Several began to donate some of their personal time to tutoring students who needed help, while others made it a point to check-in regularly and hold conversations with students who were overly quiet and seemed mentally or emotionally somewhere else. All teachers started working to make their classrooms more informal and friendly.

The most significant school action, however, was to create a credit recovery program led by a math teacher and an English teacher. Those teachers meet with a small group of students daily to help them complete and get credit for courses they failed to finish the previous year. One important daily event in the classroom is a talk circle where students share their successes, hopes and current challenges and get advice from their classmates. While most of the teaching focuses on math or English, there are also some computerized lessons in other areas. On the classroom wall is a list of the courses students have completed and earned credit for over the current term.

Throughout the news article there were several positive statements from students about the help they’ve received and the goodness of certain teachers. The implication seemed to be that this was true of all teachers.

As I have said in earlier posts, the strength of a school is not its academic rigor but its willingness to be human and to treat young people gently and with understanding. I also appreciate this school’s rising graduation rate and efforts to increase it even more. Still, there is one thing missing or not mentioned: student participation in running their school. I strongly believe that students should be included in school decision making, such as writing the rules of behavior, serving on committees to select new courses and extra-curricular activities, formulating a dress code, etc. They should also have roles in  non-academic areas such as running a school store, working in the school lunchroom or school garden, producing a school newspaper, or assisting other students who are having attendance problems or being bullied.

The point I have been trying to make over time is that a good school not only educates its students well, it also involves them in activities that make them feel they have an important role in serving the school and their classmates.

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