District still working to improve

Sandy High School's graduation and dropout rates remained nearly unchanged for the 2005-06 school year, according to numbers that the Oregon Department of Education released Monday, April 2.

Of the students who enrolled at Sandy High as freshmen, 91 percent graduated as seniors during that year, compared to 91.2 percent during the 2004-05 school year. Graduation rates for the state were 81.7 percent in both years.

'Our goal is to get to 100 (percent),' said Sandy High School Principal Jim Saxton. 'If you get above 90 percent, that's good, but our ultimate goal is to get 100 percent of our kids to graduate. There's still a few kids falling through the cracks, and we're going to track them down and get them a diploma.'

According to the state's figures, no students in the ninth grade dropped out during the 2005-06 school year, eight students in both the 10th and 12th grades dropped out, and 11 students in the 11th grade dropped out - 27 students overall.

Those figures do not include students who left school for home schooling, to pursue a GED certificate or a variety of other reasons.

The most frequent factor cited by dropouts was a lack of parental support for their education.

'We do recognize that there are kids who don't have much support when they leave (the school),' Saxton said. 'There's lots of stress and pressure on all parts of the family. We don't work miracles, but we can certainly stretch ourselves to take a good interest with what's going on with the whole kid.'

District officials noted numerous options available to students who are at risk of dropping out, including special education courses, after-school and evening programs and the ability to make up unfinished credits. But first they must identify those students who are at risk of dropping out.

'The first thing we do is we make sure we are watching progress reports and attendance rates,' said Paula Epp, Oregon Trail School District student services director. 'Our counselors stay on top of that. Sometimes prior to the point they're walking out the door … we (can offer) an alternative program.'

To help support students, the district also started the Smaller Learning Communities program, designed to ease the transition between middle school and high school and personalize the school environment. The program puts students and teachers together for core subjects over the course of a couple years and gives the teachers more access to their pupils.

'It's easier and less time-consuming for teachers to make personal contacts with families,' said district Communications Director Julia Monteith. 'The teachers don't have as many kids to be responsible for. I think in the long run, we will see the effect of that, with better parent awareness and hopefully involvement.'

According to the state's data, eight students during the 2005-06 school year dropped out because they were 'too far behind in credits to catch up,' down from 31 in the 2003-04 school year. In addition, the high school did not have a single student who finished the 12th grade without receiving a diploma last year. School administrators credit the teachers and staff for the strong showing in these areas.

'I think that's one of the strengths we have here, despite the fact that we have a limited facility and resources,' said Saxton. 'What scares me is that we don't provide the environment to continue to expand on their creativity. That's why we're always pushing for resources and facility improvement. The great teachers we need to keep, because there's a lot of competition for great teachers these days.'

The school encourages students to look beyond their last year in high school to provide motivation and avoid dropping out.

'We talk about 'grade 13,' and that could be anything: work, an internship or school,' said Sandy High School Vice Principal Tim Werner. 'We say, 'What are you doing to prepare yourself for whatever grade 13 is for you?' It's about trying to do something that's going to help down the road.'

No matter what the approach, school administrators are adamant about giving students the best possible opportunity to graduate and not let any students get away.

'It's easy to let them go, but that's not what we do,' said Saxton. 'If we can catch them, we'll reel them in.'

To view the dropout rates of all Oregon high schools, visit

Sandy High School graduation rates (state rates in parentheses)

2003-04: 308 graduates, 42 dropouts, 88.0 percent (80.8 percent)

2004-05: 302 graduates, 29 dropouts, 91.2 percent (81.7 percent)

2005-06: 272 graduates, 27 dropouts, 91.0 percent (81.7 percent)

Sandy High School dropouts, by year and gender

2003-04: 25 males, 17 females

2004-05: 15 males, 14 females

2005-06: 15 males, 12 females

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