Graduation success starts with preparation for kindergarten
The first Oregon kindergarten readiness assessments in 2014 told the McMinnville School District it had a problem.
“Our students on average knew only four letters and about four sounds, and that’s just tragic,” said Superintendent Maryalice Russell. “We embraced the idea we can do a lot more for our kids a lot earlier.”
A mastery of early math and literacy concepts is the most important predictor of later academic performance, according to the widely cited 2007 study “School Readiness and Later Achievement.”
Students who start behind must catch up quickly because students who are not reading at grade level by third grade have a hard time ever catching up, according to longitudinal studies.
McMinnville, with an 87 percent graduation rate, is among the state’s best at getting challenged students to finish school. Superintendent Maryalice Russell says the district can do even better if it can place more kids in early learning programs.
Russell said that she thought getting all kids into five years of pre-kindergarten programs would close the achievement gap.
McMinnville schools start preparing kids the first chance they get.
The district offers Ready for Kindergarten three times a year in English and Spanish for parents of children from birth to age 5. There is a meal and on-site child care. Parents receive high-quality, developmentally appropriate books and toys and advice on how to use them. Parents are taught to not just do a puzzle with a child, but to engage the child in conversations about shapes or colors.
“Ready for Kindergarten is really for parents,” said Pattie Waltz, academic progress director.
Four-year-olds whose parents participated in Ready for Kindergarten perform 25 percent above state average on the kindergarten assessment for letter names and 52 percent above average on letter sounds, according to district data.
McMinnville also instituted a half-day pre-K program at three of its six elementary schools. The program is open to students regardless of school boundaries, because many of the district’s parents can’t afford preschool. The children learn social skills and early literacy and math skills.
According to the Oregon Kindergarten Assessment, Latino students who attended the district’s pre-K program, nearly half of whom are English learners, performed 33 percent above the state average for Latino students on letter names and 59 percent above the state average on letter sounds.
McMinnville is always trying to prepare kids for a strong start. In August, it holds half-day transition camps for incoming kindergarteners. While the kids are learning about school, administrators, counselors and parent club members talk to parents about what happens in kindergarten as well as the resources and programs available.
McMinnville educators see parent engagement as key to student success, and sometimes engagement means teaching the parents how to be engaged and why.
“When moms don’t think their kids should come to school when they are kinders, then suddenly they don’t come to school as first-graders and their attendance is really sporadic,” Russell said. Attendance is a predictor of school success.
Russell says she hopes to use money from Measure 98 to create a program educating parents about the importance of graduation and post-secondary education. The program would emphasize the importance of school to parents who often don’t have much education themselves.
“We take for granted sometimes that our parents know how to help their kids through school,” Russell said. “We have to shift that and assume that we can be of great assistance helping parents know how to help their children be successful through school.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
Monday: McMinnville overcomes graduation obstacles with steady approach
Tuesday: McMinnville staff learn from each other and learn constantly
Thursday: McMinnville works to make all parents feel comfortable at schools
In 2016, 87 percent of McMinnville students graduated, significantly above the state average of 75 percent.
All McMinnville teaching staff and administrators are trained on the same methods and then become the trainers for the rest of the district.
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.