McMinnville works to make all parents feel comfortable at schools
Lesley Martinez is a first-generation Latino student at McMinnville High School making plans for after she graduates. Maybe she’ll be a paramedic, or perhaps a teacher.
A weekly program taught Martinez’s family about applying for colleges and student aid, empowering the parents.
“They helped my parents communicate better with me about what I want to do,” she said.
Those conversations are among the reasons the McMinnville School District graduates 87 percent of its students despite high poverty rates. McMinnville has a handful of core strategies aimed at improving graduation rates, including a concerted effort to reach out to Latino families.
Latino family involvement
About a third of McMinnville’s 6,800 students are Latino. About 14 percent of its students are English learners, meaning they have taken a language support class in the past two years.
McMinnville’s graduation rates for Latinos (77 percent) and English language learners (65 percent) surpass state averages. McMinnville has improved the graduation rate among Latinos 15.5 percentage points in seven years, while also dramatically increasing the number of Latino students and English language learners going to college.
Ever English Learners, students who were ever in an English language development class, had an 89 percent graduation rate in 2016, surpassing the student body average.
McMinnville High School Assistant Principal Veronica Chase credits the abilities of the students. Bi-lingual students have to be more aware of their language choices, which deepens their thinking about lessons, she said.
Chase also credits McMinnville’s education of parents.
McMinnville administrators acknowledge that outreach is simpler for them because more than 90 percent of their foreign-language students are Spanish speakers.
“We leverage our advantage,” said Kristian Frack, ELL coordinator. “We have bilingual receptionists at every single office. There is someone up front who recognizes our parents and knows them by name.”
McMinnville staff want all parents to feel comfortable and engaged. They want parents to be able to access the system and fully understand its requirements and rewards.
The district has Spanish speakers to greet people at school gatherings, and it has at least one event a month at the high school in Spanish. There is an expectation that school documents will be translated into Spanish, and interpreters attend parent-teacher conferences.
The district translates documents from the Oregon PTA or county health services to make sure parents are getting information in their native tongue.
“We include the parents of our Latino kids in every way we can,” Frack said. He is quick to point out that the Spanish-speaking community is not monolithic, so staff have to reach parents on a personal level.
“Parents have a legitimate right to expect that anything we’re making an effort to explain or present to English-speaking families, we’re doing the same to reach out to and include Spanish-speaking families,” he said.
McMinnville has what it believes to be the first and only 100 percent Latino PTA in Oregon. The group was formed about four years ago, and it collaborates and exchanges ideas with McMinnville’s English-speaking PTA.
The PTA evolved from a group of Spanish-speaking parents who were coming to meetings but wanted to be leaders in their own right.
Russell says this has been instrumental in parents leading the way in pushing students toward graduation.
Tanya Perez, the Latino PTA president, said she got involved two years ago after a friend told her about the group. Through the meetings, she said, parents have the opportunity to learn more about what the district is doing for students such as her two sons, ages 15 and 12.
“I’ve learned about the different ways the schools work with kids, and that it involves more than teachers,” she said. “As Latino parents not all of us speak English, so it’s a big advantage to see the district offering bilingual programs for our kids.”
Although the Latino PTA meetings are conducted in Spanish, its members are finding ways to build bridges with Anglo parents. For example, the Latino PTA last month conducted a joint fundraiser with other PTA parents, and plans to use a share of the proceeds for scholarships.
“Like any parents, what we want for our kids is to see them triumph,” she said. “We want to see them getting scholarships, going on to college and having the same opportunities that we have had.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA
Monday: McMinnville overcomes graduation obstacles with steady approach
Tuesday: McMinnville staff learn from each other and learn constantly
Wednesday: Graduation success starts with preparation for kindergarten
Friday: McMinnville is focused on getting students to earning a family wage
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.
The McMinnville School District offers pre-kindergarten and a program designed for parents of children from birth to age 5.
Career and technical education is a big part of McMinnville’s strategy for helping students graduate.