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Success Stories

24
JUN
2010

Western Heights Public School, Oklahoma

AN  EARLY FOCUS ON DROPOUTS:

About  six years ago,  leaders  of the Western Heights  school  district confronted the elephant at the graduation ceremony.  Limited to yearly enrollment data, no one was quite  sure how bad  the dropout rate was, but they knew it was a problem. District leaders  also knew that if they were going to address the issue, they needed  much  more  detailed information to bring the situation into focus.  Finding  no adequate information management solution  available on the market, Superintendent Joe Kitchens challenged Mizuni  to help  his district measure the scope  of its dropout problem and  develop the information and tools necessary to fix it.

 MEASURING THE PROBLEM

The resulting  ‘ best-of-breed’ system provided a combination of key functionalities not available elsewhere  in the marketplace. Western Heights  brought several key elements  to the table, adopting the U.S. Department of Education’s  rigorous and precise, yet rarely applied, ‘ unified  cohort graduation rate,’ and developing detailed systems for coding courses and tracking reasons students entered  and exited the district.  Mizuni developed an attendance system, a cohort  tracking system, and a process for managing and  delivering both  current  and  historical student class schedules.  These and  other features were framed within  a technology infrastructure that facilitated the integration and movement of detailed student data  in real  time.  Among  other functions, this allowed the district to more accurately identify  transfers and  dropouts.

 A CALCULATION, A CALL TO  ACTION

In 2007, after four  years of data  collection, the district  was able  to accurately  measure  its cohort  dropout rate. At 34.8%, it wasn’t good news, but at least it was accurate. The superintendent shared the figure  with the school  board, pledged to reduce  it, and beginning that year, Western Heights  made  a bold  public  gesture that has since become a district tradition. At each  graduation ceremony,  empty chairs  are placed alongside the graduates to symbolize  the students from  the class who had dropped out.  District leaders were literally  pulling up a seat for those students who had  not reached  the finish  line in Western Heights  High  School.  And in doing so, they were highlighting the problem for the community.

 MIZUNI DELIVERS DATA & EARLY WARNINGS

Beyond the challenging task of measuring the dropout problem, the district’ s innovative data system was also designed  to help fix it. As such, the Mizuni Dashboard Suite delivers high-value student data.  Educators, who are assigned  role-based access to the system, use the dashboard’s data  tools and reports  to monitor student performance, adjust  instruction, and target  remediation in specific areas of the curriculum before  students fall  behind. “That’s huge,”  says Jean Adams, Director of the district’s program for dropout prevention and student retention. “It makes life so much  easier because  you know  where you need to focus your attention.” The Mizuni  Dashboard Suite also provides  an early warning system that alerts educators to students flagged as ‘at-risk,’  as determined using  a number of predictive indicators associated with dropping out or disengagement (e.g., low attendance, suspensions, credit  deficiency, and poor  grades).    Furthermore, these resources  help the district figure  out what problems exist on a broader scale (e.g., student mobility,  economic disadvantage, etc.), enhancing the ability  to design  effective  programs and interventions.

A COLLABORATIVE  RESPONSE

To respond  to its problem with student success, Western Heights  has developed a ‘collaborative service model’ based  on innovative human  and technology solutions.  When the data  indicate that a student’s academic future  may be in  jeopardy, intervention staff step in to immediately offer  support  services and help  steer students down  a path  to success. The district’s many strategies include a career  tech center where students can learn technical skills and  earn college credit, on-site  social  worker  support  for students and families, flexible  schedules  for working students, day-care services for parents  attending classes or college courses, free tuition  towards  an associate’s degree  at a local  community college, college-credit courses, and an advanced placement program to ensure that especially  bright  students remain challenged and engaged.

 TOWARD A BRIGHTER  FUTURE

Western Heights  has made  great  strides in measuring and reducing its dropout problem with the help of the Mizuni  Dashboard Suite. Over  the past 4 years, they’ ve cut the cohort dropout rate from  34.8 to 23.3 percent  and have become much  better able  to help kids like Kayla, a teen parent  who dropped out, but through intervention efforts was convinced by Western Heights  staff to return to school.  This year, Kayla, who works nights and weekends  to support  her 1-year-old son, will become the first person  in her family  to earn a high  school  diploma. Perhaps more  remarkably, she will be matriculating to a local community college to study nursing  through the assistance of the free tuition program. Armed  with detailed, real-time data  available through the Mizuni Dashboard Suite, the passionate and innovative staff of Western Heights  has been successful in reducing the number of empty seats at each  year’s graduation. They remain  dedicated to continuing the encouraging trend  by continuing to use data  to accurately  monitor and support their students.

District Statistics
  •  Southwest side of Oklahoma City, OK
  •  3,500 students; 6 regular schools, 1 alternative school
  •  Student population: 42% White,  24% Hispanic,  20% Black,  10% Indian American, 4% Asians,  84% economically disadvantaged