LatinaLista — When it comes to keeping kids in school and actually thinking of college as being a future possibility for them, one would think that all the adults would be on board with that. Yet, an interesting article on edweek.org titled Attitude Adjustment: The Stockton, Calif., district gets serious about lowering–and verifying–its dropout rate illustrates that the kids aren’t always the problem.
Stockton Unified School District Superintendent Anthony Amato
In 2008, the Stockton, CA school district got a new superintendent, Anthony Amato. Amato was determined to turn his new school district around. Since he’s been there, he’s initiated a number of new programs to get kids to stay in school, graduate and basically stay on top of the kids who show signs of dropping out.
For all his work, Amato has received considerable pushback from the community – an editorial in the local paper labeling him “arrogant,” a school board member who accused him of taking credit for past administration’s achievements and the local teachers association who claim that their members were upset that the Superintendent didn’t consult with them before implementing small learning communities at some of the worst performing schools.
All in all, the adults in the community are saying he’s moving too quickly.
But when there is an educational crisis looming overhead and the process to deal with it has traditionally been slow, moving quickly and authoritatively should be refreshing if results are being achieved.
And from the sound of it, while some adults in Stockton may not like the Superintendent’s style, the kids are responding in such a way that it warrants applying some of these methods at other school districts across the country.
Office personnel have also been trained to be more welcoming. Last year, one returning dropout was greeted by a school employee who said, “You again? Why are you even bothering to come back?” Mr. Amato says versions of this happened far too often. “They need to be telling these kids, ‘We’re so glad you’re back!” he says.
Instead of resuming their old course schedules, newly re-enrolled students now meet immediately with their counselors. They map out a customized course schedule…
Broader efforts aimed at all seniors and freshmen also should better support returning dropouts, district pesonnel say, and reduce leaks in the high school pipeline. Those include requiring every senior to develop a plan detailing the courses and credits needed for graduation, and biweekly checks of the grades and attendance of freshmen and seniors, with extra classes or tutoring when needed.
Curriculum changes are part of the picture as well. Seeing huge freshman failure rates in algebra and earth science, the district changed its course lineup and brought in programs to help students in those areas. The district introduced a new high school math curriculum, and is training teachers in better delivery of instruction across all subject areas, with particular attention to effective strategies for English-language learners, says Linda C. Luna, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
An interesting element in Amato’s approach to keeping kids in school is how he involves the whole community. When the Saturday for the SAT rolled around, Amato arranged with the town’s churches to ring their bells precisely at 6 a.m. – a kind of town alarm clock.
Also, he and his staff worked with local employers of students and got them to rearrange work schedules to accommodate the testing.
Another thing Amato did, that really ticked off teachers, was that he let those seniors who didn’t finish all their credits walk across the stage — with a condition.
Having learned that many seniors dropped out because they found out about credit shortages at the last minute, Mr. Amato offered second-chance strategies. Those within striking distance of graduation could “buy back” missed time with supervised study outside of school hours, a practice that some teachers reportedly resented because it seemed an unfair shortcut.
Seniors who could graduate by attending summer school were allowed to walk through the ceremony on a signed promise that they’d finish their work that summer. To cement that promise, Mr. Amato imposed an unusual condition: Unless 80 percent of those teenagers showed up for the summer work, no future students could attend graduation on the pledge to complete work in the summer. Word got out. Peer and family pressure apparently set in. Eighty-four percent of those students completed their required work.
These are just a few examples of what Amato is doing. That he is seen as being arrogant, unilateral and, dare we say, a real leader in implementing change is to his credit.
Amato is showing that being a leader is not a popular position. If it were and everyone agreed with that person, there would be no real leadership because nothing new or innovative was being tried.
People, a.k.a. adults, like the traditional, the same-old-same-old, and as an educator, those are the ones who are really holding our kids back.
If we want to reform education in this country, the tactics of educators like Amato need to be studied, replicated and implemented.
There’s not a moment to lose.
Zenaida Magana, 16, a junior at Edison High School, sees the difference. When excessive absences caused her to be dropped from the school roster last year, a police officer came to her house. When she returned, she got a kindly lecture from her guidance counselor about the importance of her education. In contrast, no one from the school even called when a friend of hers skipped out two years ago.
“I feel like they are looking out for us, and they actually want us to get an education,” Zenaida says.