Minority graduation rate up 5.7 percent, Ellis says

May. 04, 2013 @ 04:34 PM

Union County Public Schools Superintendent Mary Ellis and members of her staff came to the Bazemore Center Thursday night to speak to A Few Good Men and other communtiy groups. 

She answered questions about graduation rates, dropout rates, suspensions and other components of education for minority students.

Ellis said in a presentation that UCPS has increased the graduation rate for African American students by 5.7 percent over the past three years.

“We’re doing better, but is it good enough? No,” Ellis said. 

Ellis said they are working to put extra counselors in their at-risk high schools, increase tutoring, increase access to technology and create specialized school programs to reach out to more at-risk students, among other things.

Ellis said they are “committed to getting to students earlier.”

The dropout rate is descreasing, which Ellis said she is prouder of than their graduation rate. 

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Ellis said.

They are working to change their policies for teen moms with regard to the hours they must attend school and working to accomodate teen mothers as they work toward graduation. 

“They are young people who realize they want better for their children,” Ellis said. 

The system is working with Monroe and Forest Hills High Schools, with students who have too many abscences or have been suspended. 

They are building alternative learning programs for students who are suspended.

“Every child, whether they’re suspended or not, needs to graduate with a diploma that means something,” Ellis said. 

Nationally and in UCPS minorities make up a disproportionate amount of suspensions and dropout students, Assistant Superintendent for Auxilliary Services Shelton Jefferies said. 

“We have an earnest commitment to reaching every child,” Jefferies said. 

While the numbers of suspensions and dropouts are going down, Ellis and Jefferies acknowledged they are not there yet.

The group also asked about minority representation in advanced placement classes and the academically and intellectually gifted program. 

In UCPS, african-american students make up about 7.54 percent of advanced placement classes.

“I’m hot on this,” Ellis said about increasing those numbers. 

In the past, advanced placement classes were limited by interest. A school had to have a certain number of students sign up to make the class financially viable. However, in the fall, high school students will be able to take an advanced placement class in any school through the Chromebooks the school has given them. 

Jefferies said their AIG program falls “woefully short” with minority representation and that there is a trend of underrepresentation. While they are committed to increasing representation, Jefferies said they will not have a quota. 

There are often cultural biases in the tests used to admit students to the AIG program, Jefferies said. They are looking at other standardized tests that have fewer biases and asking for educators to look at students who are perhaps not traditional candidates, but could benefit from the program. Their plan to increase representation in the program will take about three years.

Robert Heath with A Few Good Men asked Ellis at the end of the presentation what they as a community and as parents can do to help her. 

Ellis said that they can continue to invite her to come speak and answer questions. However, she said, what they are crying out for are parents to come into the schools and read to students. 

You let us know what days you can be in school, Ellis told the group.