PHS battles grad rates issue

Robert Smith |

First-year Pawhuska High School Principal Lauri Lee and other district staff members are laboring to find ways to improve classroom attendance and the district’s graduation rate.

Lee recently told the Pawhuska Board of Education that the district’s graduation rate for School Year 2016 was just 64 percent, and the figure for the number of students who had actually dropped out of school was 12 percent.

“I couldn’t believe it was that low,” Lee said. Several days later, however, she shared with the Pawhuska Journal-Capital some slightly less forbidding news she had received from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

The OSDE explained in an email to the Pawhuska district that the 64-percent graduation rate was the rate to be used for federal purposes, and it included “Out of Home Placement students.”

The state of Oklahoma graduation rate “excludes these students, as is now required by law,” the OSDE told Pawhuska. The term “Out of Home Placement” refers to children in foster care and other “out-of-home” situations.

“We apologize for any confusion this may have caused,” the OSDE said in its clarification email. “To reiterate, the official 2016 state graduation rate which will be available for public access for Pawhuska High School is 71 percent.”

Even with that upward adjustment, though, Pawhuska High School’s graduation rate for school Yyear 2016 was lower than the 76-percent rate for school year 2015 that is listed in Oklahoma State Department of Education figures available online.

Lee held out hope to the Board of Education in her recent remarks, however, by sharing with board members that preliminary numbers she had received for school year 2017 indicated Pawhuska’s graduation rate for that period could be 78 percent, with a rate of actual dropouts of 7 percent. In an interview with the Journal-Capital, she cautioned that those numbers were not final and could shift.

One recent measure the Pawhuska School District has taken to improve overall classroom attendance involved interaction between Coach Matt Hennesy, the district’s new football coach, and youth with attendance problems. Hennesy told the Board of Education that he had accompanied more than 30 district students to Truancy Court for a court date in March. That number dropped to 10 the next time, and none of the 10 were youth who had been in court the previous time, Hennesy said.

The agreement Hennesy made with the students was that if they had no further absences, they would not be required to go to Truancy Court again, Lee said.

“A lot of times, because of their attendance, they get so far behind in class that that’s where the dropout issue comes in,” Lee said. Many students just don’t have the home support they need to resist the temptation to leave school for good, she said.