I’m often asked if I work in the summer. When I say yes, the next question is, “So what do you do?”
One of my summer assignments is to prepare reports for the state about the district’s suspension rate, graduation rate and the dropout rate.
When I began as Portland’s superintendent a year ago, I focused the system’s attention on the number of students dropping out. I believed that we could do a much better job of keeping kids in school. This is important because students without a high school education face a lifetime of poverty. By earning a diploma, students have a passport that enables them to pursue college, careers or the military.
Students quit school for complicated reasons, but one factor is suspension. A child who is sent home repeatedly gets the message, “You’re not welcome here.” That may lead him or her to simply quit.
At the end of every school year, each district in Maine is required to report the number of suspensions that occurred during the preceding year. Here’s the good news for Portland: the total number of students suspended last year was down by nearly 100, or more than 20 percent.
Lowering the suspension rate is important, but maintaining strong behavioral expectations also is important. To that end, Portland schools are working with professionals such as Ross Green and Stan Davis to create proactive expectations of students before they get suspended. Our administrators are looking for alternatives to suspension. We must continue down this path of keeping students safe and engaged in their learning.
Another report due the state at the end of each year is graduation data. The state is required to collect data calculating graduation rates. New, strict federal rules taking effect require that graduation rates be determined by calculating the loss of students from freshman to senior year. Portland’s graduation rate now is 80 percent.
The number of youngsters quitting school is yet another report required by the state and federal governments. The Portland Public Schools reported that a total of 60 students quit last school year. How does 60 students compare to the past? Good news again. In the past, Portland lost as many as 197 students in a single year. We lost one-third that number this past year.
Every child is important. Efforts by Portland’s staff are making a difference in suspension rates, graduation rates and dropout rates.
Summer is an important season for the superintendent’s office. Now it’s time to begin the work to prepare for the new school year.