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As graduation season nears, SFUSD works to ensure students cross finish line

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Graduates make their way to their seats during a graduation ceremony for the Class of 2017 at Washington High School in San Francisco’s Richmond district Thursday, May 25, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

It must be spring. Last week, I received the dates for 18 San Francisco public high school graduation ceremonies taking place in early June. I hope to make it to every single one of them.  These ceremonies are akin to high holy days for those of us in education.

For our students and their families, graduating from high school represents one of life’s major milestones. While the diploma deservedly goes to the student, standing behind each graduate is a team of teachers, counselors and family members who taught, cheered and sometimes cajoled to help get them to this moment.

Because this is such an important event, in recent years we’ve increased our methodical identification of students who need extra support to make it to graduation through analyzing early warning indicators. We’ve also increased the ways students can access courses online or in-person on evenings and weekends.

Graduation requirements
SFUSD requires that all students earn 230 credits, including the college-preparatory A-G course sequence, a requirement for entry into a University of California or California State University. Many school districts still grant diplomas without requiring these courses, but the San Francisco Board of Education instituted this requirement in 2010 to ensure SFUSD graduates had every possible opportunity to go to college.

Using Early Warning Indicators
When students enter 9th grade, we are already thinking about how to ensure they graduate four years later. Every high school receives a list of students who exhibited research-based off-track indicators in eighth grade and are required to provide extra support from the very start of high school.

SFUSD created this early warning system in 2012 to identify students who were not on track to graduate and provide them with additional academic and social-emotional support. Schools have been successfully tracking and supporting student progress toward graduation more systematically than before the off-track/on-track system was instituted.

When students fall behind…
We want every student to succeed. Therefore, we offer multiple layers of support to high school students who do not pass a class to ensure every effort is made to help the student succeed in graduating.

For example, if a high school student receives a D or F, counselors intervene immediately. In addition to meeting with the student, schools send a letter to parents or guardians letting them know their child’s high school diploma is in jeopardy.

Counselors speak with students to find out where they are experiencing challenges, and try to provide the necessary support. If a student is struggling in more than one class, counselors will hold a student study team in which teachers and family members are invited to meet and look for strategies to help the student improve in all their classes.

SFUSD coordinates credit recovering options through evening, Saturday and summer school. These extended learning courses attempt to offer engaging intervention curriculum designed for struggling students.

Graduation Rates Improving
All this hard work is paying off. We’re seeing our graduation rates go up while at the same time our graduation requirements are becoming more rigorous.

For the most recent year reported by the state, the SFUSD continues to outperform state averages. In the most recent year reported, we had an 86.5 percent graduation rate compared to the state rate of 82.7 percent.

Closing the opportunity gap continues to be our priority. We’re especially heartened to see a positive seven-year trend for our most historically underserved students. While all student groups have made gains, the rates for African-American, Latino and Pacific Islander students over the past seven years have increased at a greater rate than that of other groups.

This year’s graduation ceremonies will also mark the conclusion of my first full year as superintendent here. I couldn’t be more proud of the staff, families and students who make up this district. There is indeed a lot to celebrate this spring!

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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