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By Donovan M. Smith | The Skanner News
Published: 05 February 2016

 New numbers released by the Oregon Department of Education show that two of the state’s most historically underserved schools made the two greatest leaps in graduation rates.

Jefferson and Roosevelt High Schools came in at first and second, respectively, for best turnarounds in the 2014-2015 school year, with Jefferson achieving a 25 percent increase from the year previous, graduating 81 percent of its seniors on time, and Roosevelt making a 9 percent bump, sending 67 percent of its seniors across the stage.

Leaders at Jefferson are crediting much of their success to an ongoing partnership with Self Enhancement Inc. that targets increasing the success of at-risk students, through its Whole School Model.

“We believe education starts at home, well before you get into a classroom,” Tony Hopson Sr., president and CEO of Self Enhancement, Inc., told The Skanner before adding that Self Enhancement has offered the programming and had extended funding this year. “We can bridge [both]. Whether that’s getting people actual housing, providing support around food and shelter, heat, all those necessities in life that a family would want to have, we find that a lot of our kids just don’t have that.”

When the Whole School Model was introduced to Jefferson High School just over 5 years ago, Jefferson’s graduation was under 44 percent. In the years since, the number of students that have enrolled in the program and the outcomes for the North Portland school have increased each year.

These gains match state trends, where graduation rates are up two percent.

However despite those advances, Oregon continues to report some of the worst graduation rates in the country--especially for African Americans. Despite making up less than 3 percent of the state’s pupils, Oregon has the third-worst track-record of graduating Black students in the country. 

Jefferson -- a school that, in recent years, was considered for closure -- is the last remaining majority African American public high school in the state. Roosevelt is one of the state’s most racially diverse schools and also the poorest.

Oregon Department of Education’s Crystal Green says, while there are a lot of schools with high rates of poverty, there were tangible improvements among these populations in some of their data sets.

“That’s one of the things we’ve been excited to see this year, is that some of our schools that have really made progress and are closing, or have closed the graduation gap (for low-income students),” Greene said. She added that Neah-Kah-Nie High, located in the coastal town of Rockaway Beach, graduated 100 percent of its students, who have a high poverty rate, surpassing the overall rates. “Jefferson and Roosevelt also are examples of schools where they can really focus in on supporting all of their kids, and having interventions early, having the supports that they need, and really making sure that kids are on track throughout their time in high school. So they can graduate on time, with a plan, and ready for whatever it is they want to do after high school.”

Hopson tells The Skanner that at Jefferson over 80 percent of the students it graduated last year were Black.

“The achievement gap is something that most folks talk about not just locally but across this nation,” Hopson says. “What we’ve been able to prove, is that with the right support African American students can learn at the same level, if not higher, than anyone else whether we’re talking about Jefferson, Roosevelt, or any other schools, so this is huge given all of the equity questions that we’re looking at in education.”

While graduation rates in the country are at an all-time high, America lags far behind a host of other developed countries for graduating its seniors on time.

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