Highland News Leader
Graduation rates at Highland High School reached a five year high last summer, something the schools principal said is thanks to a focus on culture.
Highland’s senior graduation rate spiked in 2018 to 92 percent, up from 2017’s rate of 86 percent. The rate is 7 percent higher than the Illinois state average.
Highland High School Principal Dr. Chris Becker said several avenues may have led to that number, but he believes focus on the school’s culture around may be a major factor.
“We’ve really focused the last couple of years on school culture and making sure our students know how much we care about them,” Becker said. “If you have that in place, you can get a student to achieve anything.”
HHS’s idea of culture encompasses many things, Becker said, but focuses on making sure students want to be at school. That means developing relationships with students and teachers, growing school pride and focusing on other factors that keep students invested in school.
Developing that, Becker said, has taken several years. He said it’s a combination of buy-in throughout the district involving parents, teachers and administrators putting an emphasis on relationships with students.
“It’s hats off to teachers and parents. But the teachers have really worked hard to establish connections with kids and make relationships to make sure they buy in and come in and do their best.”
Becker said along with developing culture, programs in the school that put a focus on student’s quality of life at school also may be helping the school’s data points.
The Student Assistance Program (SAP) is one such program Becker said is making a difference. The program is made up of a group of roughly a dozen teachers and administrators at the high school who work to identify and assist students who may be struggling as they work toward their diploma.
Becker said for many students identified through the program, it can be the difference between leaving the school with and without a diploma.
“SAP can be a big deal because teachers and admins can reach out to students, even calling them in the morning to make sure they get out of bed in the morning,” he said.
SAP members meet with struggling students twice a month, check up on them regularly and even in some cases have given students rides to school.
More Student Success
Along with a rising graduation rate is the school’s 9th grade on-track rate, which in 2018 reached 94 percent, up 4 percent from 2017.
According to the state, students identified as “on track” have earned at least five full-year course credits and have earned no more than one semester “F” in a core course.
The state counts freshmen on track rates as a key predictor of a high school’s success and students who finish their freshman year on track are almost four times as likely to graduate from high school as students who are not on track.
The number of students on track and the graduation rate rise when schools actively intervene, with programs like SAP, by identifying freshmen at risk and providing tutoring, additional instruction, and other individualized services, according to the state.
The school’s rate of students enrolling in a post-secondary school raised from 70 percent in 2017 to 87 percent in 2018.
Becker said the rising numbers are a boost for the school and reinforcement that the focus on student engagement is paying off. He said
“We feel like we’re definitely doing great things with teaching and learning,” Becker said. “To get as many students as we can to walk out the doors with a diploma is great and we like to see that increase year-to-year.”
He said, even with all the success of the last year, the school still has more work to do. If the focus on students continues, he said, more success is on the horizon.
“We’re seeing some really positive momentum, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” Becker said.