Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report - (Page S4)

DROPOUT REDUCTION Daniel P. King SUPERINTENDENT Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, Texas BY LESLI A. MAXWELL W hen Daniel P. King took the helm of the 32,000-student school district he leads in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley in 2007, its three high schools had just been singled out as “dropout factories” in a seminal national report. Three school board members and the outgoing superintendent had recently been indicted in a federal bribery case for accepting cash and other gifts in exchange for awarding contracts. All four were later convicted; two board members served time in federal prison. Gang-related tensions were running high in the district’s secondary schools, causing violent incidents to flare and attendance to plummet. And 23 high school science teachers had resigned because of a mismanaged school redesign process that had bungled the master schedule. “The district was in crisis,” says King, 59, who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and has spent his entire 36-year career as an educator in that region. “I told the board that if they wanted to individually influence daily operations of the school system, they should not hire me. I needed a lot of leeway.” A little more than five years later, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school system, located along the Texas border with Mexico, stands out as a promising example of how to turn around a district where low graduation rates and sluggish academic achievement were the norm for years. It’s also one whose demographics—99 percent Hispanic, 90 percent poor, and 41 percent in need of English-language-acquisition services—are more commonly linked to dropping out of high school than entering and finishing college. The starting point: The graduation rate by the end of the 2006-07 school year was 62 percent, far below Texas’ statewide average of 77 percent. Nearly 500 students (out of a total high school enrollment of 8,000) had dropped out of school that year, and nearly half of them were seniors who had fallen short by just a few credits, hadn’t passed an exit exam, or were derailed by a combination of both, King says. By last June: The dropout rate had been slashed by nearly 90 percent. More than 1,909 seniors earned di- plomas in four years, bumping the district’s graduation rate to 88 percent, roughly 10 percentage points higher than the rate for all of Texas. And about 25 percent of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo’s high school students were enrolled in at least one course that could earn them credit for college. Enrollment rates in higher education doubled for the district’s graduates between 2007 and 2010. “It has been a massive shift in many ways,” says Nora Rivas-Garza, the principal of the 2,000-student Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School, one of five in the PRESIDENT & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EXECUTIVE PROJECT EDITOR EXECUTIVE EDITOR SENIOR WRITERS Virginia B. Edwards Gregory Chronister MANAGING EDITORS Karen Diegmueller Kathleen Kennedy Manzo S4 | > LEADERS TO LEARN FROM EDUCATION WEEK • February 6, 2013 Debra Viadero Lesli A. Maxwell Christina A. Samuels district. “But the biggest change is that we went from a system where only the top 10 percent were expected to go to college to one where all students are expected to do so. Everyone hears about higher education, and everyone is pushed, encouraged, and prodded to take those courses that are going to put them on the path to college.” The first step in turning the district around, King says, was a triage effort to restore order to the high schools, and a push to build relationships with staff members, school board members, parents, and a com- CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Caralee Adams Diette Courrégé Casey Michelle R. Davis Alyson Klein Michele Molnar Erik W. Robelen Stephen Sawchuk Nirvi Shah Sarah D. Sparks Jaclyn Zubrzycki DESIGNER, PROJECT LEAD Linda Jurkowitz DESIGN DIRECTOR Laura Baker DEPUTY DESIGN DIRECTOR Gina Tomko ASSISTANT DESIGN DIRECTOR Vanessa Solis

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report

Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report
Dropout Reduction
English-Learner Education
School Turnarounds
Rural Enrollment
Special Education
District-Union Partnership
Parent Engagement
School Climate
College Readiness
Digital Access
Social Networking
Student Discipline
Smart Growth
Stem Education

Education Week - February 6, 2013 - Special Report