Duluth Schools Showing Progress in Addressing Drop Outs, Achievement Gap

By KBJR News 1

February 17, 2012 Updated Feb 20, 2012 at 5:02 PM CDT

DULUTH, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - Only two years ago the graduation rate of African American Students in Duluth Public Schools was 25 percent, and Native Americans 34 percent.

The number of contract teachers of color was also very small.

Since then, the district has been working on ways to help all students reach their potential and graduation.

In the last couple years, closing the achievement gap has become a priority. Data coaches now work with teachers and integration specialists with students.

"In addition for being mentors for kids they're traffic directors. They need to find resources in the community and perhaps social services at times that help supports the family unity and the family success, because that's what really drives the student's success as well," said Ron Hagland, who runs the Office of Education Equity at ISD 709.

The Parents and Students Succeeding, or PASS program, is also getting more parents involved.

"I'm actually able to be there more for my kids and learn what their dreams are and help them achieve their dreams," said Airiana Lambus, a parent of two kids, who take part in the PASS program.

The PASS program has a motto.

"They have the rule of graduation is the expectation, and my wording is graduation is going to happen," said Lambus.

Fewer students are dropping out.

"In 2010, we had 155 students drop out, in 2011, we had 86< said Tawnya Lake, Director of Assessment for ISD 709.

To keep-up, some students are now getting double doses of math and using special programs.

"Read 180 is certainly a program that we've seen some success in," said Superintendent Bill Gronseth.

About 44% of those using Read 180 saw two or more years of reading growth.

"They actually made-up ground and that's what we want," said Lake.

The district is also open to offering cultural specific courses, but is also looking at changing how it teaches subjects like history.

"Changing the question from, who discovered America, to who are the first Europeans," said Gronseth, citing an example.

After school programs also play a role.

One option is a global music program that exposes kids to music of other cultures.

There's also other programs like Metamorphosis, Compass, and Youth of Duluth.

"I came up with the concept of academics, basketball, plus character," said Duane Byrd, the Director of Youth of Duluth.

Besides homework and sports, the students hear positive role models.

"We've got kids that have gone from 1.8 to 2.4 at the middle school level, and high school level 2.4's to 3.2," said Byrd, citing growth he's seen.

"My children have flourished," said Lambus.

Both her sons take part in Youth of Duluth.

"I like the homework part because it helps me learn my division and multiplication better," said Levi Lambus, Airiana's older son.

District leaders say the key to success is to stay committed.

"It's not just within the school district. It's within the community, so this is a very huge undertaking that many people have committed themselves to," said Haglund.

Superintendent Gronseth says curriculum is a constantly changing, and the district is looking to make it more culturally responsive, changing language, content, and including Native American Standards.

The district has also added more staff of color, and hope to get more teachers of color.

There is still a lot of work to do to close the achievement gap.

The district is now putting more emphasis on individual attention and growth.

In the past, No Child Left Behind has been monitoring progress of students against that of students from the last year.

-For parents interested in the PASS program:

Seven Wednesday Evening Sessions:
Central Hillside Community Center
12 E. 4th Street
Beginning February 15th thru April 4th 2012
Dates: 2/15, 2/22, 2/29, 3/7, 3/21, 3/28, 4/4
FOr more info call:

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