McMinnville overcomes graduation obstacles with steady approach
McMinnville High School sophomore Daisy Acevedo knows what she wants.
“I’ll be the first one in my family to go to college,” she said. “I didn’t have anyone at home who said, ‘Oh, you should go to college.’”
Acevedo is working toward her diploma because of the supports she and her family received from the McMinnville School District. She discovered the student she could be, and she wants to be a nurse. Graduation is a driving goal.
“I really want to do it now,” she says.
McMinnville’s graduation success rate suggests she can.
Sophomore Daisy Acevedo gained confidence in her academic abilities at McMinnville High School. Now she wants to be a nurse after she graduates. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
In 2016, 87 percent of McMinnville students graduated, significantly above the state average of 75 percent. McMinnville’s graduation rate has also been rising faster than the state average in recent years, despite the district’s high poverty rate. All McMinnville’s students receive free meals under the Community Eligibility Provision, a federal program for the nation’s highest poverty districts.
The district starts its education mission as soon as it can get the parents of an infant into one of its programs, and it keeps going ideally until a student is established in a career or college.
“We are not funded for staffing post-secondary specialists. We’re not funded to do a 4-year-old program. We’re still doing it anyway,” Superintendent Maryalice Russell said. “We are just going to do it because it has to be done.”
McMinnville administrators and staff identified a few central strategies to their success. Today and over the next four days, OREdNews will explore some of the key components of McMinnville’s approach.
Consistency of goals
“We’re not doing 120 different things,” said School Board Member Larry Vollmer. “We’re doing a handful, and we’re doing them really, really well.
“There is no magic. It’s hard work over a long period of time.”
Russell, McMinnville’s superintendent since 2002, is one of the longest-serving superintendents in Oregon. According to staff, she has remained steadfast in her focus. If she sees even a little drift away from core strategies, she secures extra training for administrators and teachers.
The constancy of the expectations frees staff and administrators to focus their attention on the individual needs of kids, said McMinnville High School Principal Tony Vicknair.
Russell has also instilled an ethic that’s it’s never “good enough.” If 83 percent of the student body does well on some assessment, staff want to know what they can do to get the other 17 percent up to task, administrators said.
District administrators often field questions from other teachers and districts looking to copy their program. They tell them that McMinnville doesn’t have a particular program or template. Instead, they have built a system with values everyone can talk about.
Russell credits the consistency of the school board. McMinnville administrators say they don’t have to worry about random changes based on a workshop somebody attended or a trend in education.
School board members say that is part of their board culture. The board has little turnover, and new board members are expected to learn the board’s student-centered values.
“You have to have high standards but not unrealistic standards,” said Vollmer, who is in his 12th year on the board. “We’re not changing the targets.”
Janis Braich, who is in her 19th year on the board, said board consistency lends credibility to their stated goals.
The school board tries to be highly informed on every issue. To increase the board’s collective knowledge, it has four subcommittees: curriculum, finance, policy and long-range facilities. The board chair regularly meets with Russell, and each of the remaining six board members takes on two subcommittees. With three members to a subcommittee, they can meet without forming a quorum and learn about a topic in depth. When it comes time for the full board to vote on an issue, they are confident that three of their members have attained some level of expertise.
“We are really blessed to have an engaged board,” Vicknair said.
All the board members adopt a school, and they spend time at the schools. They volunteer and visit classrooms to get to know the kinds of issues their teachers and administrators face. Board members say they see their mission as understanding what their students need and then providing the support for schools to meet those needs.
“We’re not the experts,” Vollmer said. “We need to be good students too.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
Tuesday: McMinnville staff learn from each other and learn constantly
All McMinnville teaching staff and administrators are trained on the same methods and then become the trainers for the rest of the district.
The McMinnville School District offers pre-kindergarten and a program designed for parents of children from birth to age 5.
McMinnville staff want all parents to be able to access the system and fully understand its requirements and rewards.
Career and technical education is a big part of McMinnville’s strategy for helping students graduate.