By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Mac High touts grad rates

A higher percentage of McMinnville High School students graduate, and a lower percentage drop out, than from almost any other high school in Oregon.

Mac High is doing especially well reaching and teaching students for whom English is a second language and students demonstrating special learning needs, according to statistics recently released by the state Department of Education.

McMinnville’s graduation rate for 2013-14 was 84.07 percent, up from 79.87 for 2012-13. That compares to a state average of 71.98, up from 68.66.

Mac High’s one-year dropout rate was 2.17 percent in 2013-14, compared to a state average of 3.95. Its dropout rate was 1.98 percent for students of Hispanic heritage, compared to 5.27 statewide; 2.51 for students with learning disabilities, compared to 6.10 statewide; and 2.72 for students with limited English ability, compared to 7.62 statewide.

Those are the lowest dropout rates of McMinnville in more than a decade, according to Principal Kris Olsen.

The local rate topped out in the 12 to 13 percent range at the turn of the 21st century, it has been steadily declining since, he said. He credited the drop to a focused effort on retention and success.

“We’ve worked at it from multiple ends,” Olsen said.

The efforts to lower the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate have involved everyone in the district, he and Superintendent Maryalice Russell said. The school board, administrators and teachers at elementary and middle schools, as well as Mac High, play a part in making sure students get the right foundation to do well in high school.

“This team says, ‘We’re going to make sure all kids are successful,” the superintendent said.

Mac High itself uses myriad approaches:

- Freshman teams, which help ninth graders make the transition from middle school and get a good start on earning the credits they’ll need to graduate. “A successful freshman year makes a huge difference,” the Olsen said.

- Focused instruction based on data. All Mac High teachers attend staff development programs bi-weekly.

- A personalized approach, which makes sure many staff members know each student and know what he or she needs to succeed.

- Career pathways, which let students explore their interests and pick up skills they’ll need in the future, making classes more relevant to teens. 

- The College Credit Now program, which helps make college affordable as well as teaching college-level skills in high school.

- Expanded numbers of advanced placement classes, an honors diploma and other opportunities.

- A variety of general intervention programs to flag students who are struggling with academics and help them get back on the right track — after-school homework help, a writing academy, math assistance, summer school, for instance.

Intervention has helped ensure that most students meet or exceed goals on state tests. In the latest reports, more than 90 percent passed the reading goal and close to 80 percent the goals in math.

And for the second year in a row, no Mac High student missed graduating because he or she was behind in basic skills, said Tony Vicknair, director of secondary programs for the district.

- Targeted intervention designed specifically to help students with special needs, such as disabilities or language barriers. All students end up benefiting, said both the principal and Kristian Frack, coordinator of English Language Learner and migrant programs.

- Parental involvement. Teachers are in regular contact with all parents. For students who need to improve basic skills and for those with language barriers and other needs, there are regular meetings and activities to involve families, said Sean Burke, assistant principal. “Parents are extremely supportive,” he said.

- Improved school climate, with programs to help students feel included and valued at Mac High. For instance, a club called McMinnville Grizzly Mentors and Mentees started last year to promotes academic growth and involvement.

Burke said MGM Squared’s members get together frequently to help each other with homework. They also spend time together on teamwork and fun activities. (See related story on Page A8)

School climate, intervention, parent involvement, college credits and career pathways — all contribute to students staying in school, feeling that they are learning valuable information, and graduating, Olsen said.

In terms of graduation rates, McMinnville also was well above state averages for three sub-groups, students of Hispanic origin, students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency.

Mac High’s graduation rate for Hispanic students was 86.03 percent in 2013-14, two points above its general graduation rate and more than 21 points above the state average of 64.95 percent. The same trend held true a year earlier, when the school’s graduation rate for Hispanic students stood at 80.34 percent, compared to 60.79 for the state as a whole.

Students with disabilities had a graduation rate of 67.24 at Mac High in 2013-14, compared to a state average of 51.11 percent. The previous year, the local rate stood at 45.45 percent and the state rate at 37.16 percent.

For students with limited English, Mac High’s rate was 83.64 percent in 2013-14, compared to a state rate of 51.66 percent. In 2012-13, Mac High’s rate was 65.22 percent, compared to the state’s 49.13.

At 83.64 percent, Mac High posted the third-highest graduation rate in Oregon for students who’ve been in language learner programs at some point in high school. The only better performers were Portland’s Franklin and Century, which each had fewer than 50 students in that category.

Olsen said his staff and the rest of the district are celebrating the great graduation rates and the low dropout rate. But it’s about more than just a positive showing for the school.

“We’re really happy for all those kids, to see how positive they are and how well they’re doing,” Olsen said.

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