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100 percent graduation? Supt. outlines bold approach to new school year

Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) Superintendent Rob Neu gave his 2013-14 "outlook" during the school board meeting on Aug. 27, outlining a bold vision for the district for this year and the foreseeable future.

Neu began with a declaration regarding graduation rates, and what he hopes to see for this year's freshman class by the time they graduate. The graduation rate for the Class of 2012 was 70.2 percent.

"Our graduation rate in Federal Way has been hovering around 70 percent for many years now," he said. "Last year, as we looked at our graduation data, you approved this progression, moving toward a 92 percent graduation rate…We would like to up that ante, because we would like to believe all students can graduate on time, and we're targeting this year's freshman class to be 100 percent graduated in four years."

Neu said the district hopes to accomplish this by focusing energy on African-American, Hispanic and Native American students.

"When you look at their subgroup graduation rates, I think we can call them 'in crisis,'" he said. "And we believe by focusing on these students…and ensuring their success, that all students will rise."

Outside of graduation rates, Neu revisited what the district has termed the "Global Learning Initiative." Neu foresees the district having a regular exchange program with international schools in the near future, one that he believes would be able to be self-funding with an annual revenue stream of $1 million.

Along with that, Neu says the district will continue to push forward on making sure students have exposure to a second language as part of the Global Learning Initiative.

"Utah is the first state in the nation to adopt an aggressive second language program," the superintendent noted. "And so Gregg Roberts, language immersion specialist with the Utah state office of education, says that 'Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the 21st century.'"

Neu said some of the goals of the Global Learning Initiative include:

• Learning from international educators.

• Developing international partnerships through sister school programs and the like.

• Student and staff exchanges.

• A comprehensive language program that begins in kindergarten or even earlier.

"I believe that every student should be in a world language," Neu said, adding that students need experience studying abroad. "They need to be bi-literate and bilingual."

Graduation by the numbers

Federal Way Public Schools have an overall graduation rate of 70.2 percent. Here are the Class of 2012 graduation rates for the district's four main high schools, according to the state superintendent's office:

• Federal Way High School: 73.7 percent

• Decatur High School: 69.3 percent

• Thomas Jefferson High School: 68.8 percent

• Todd Beamer High School: 76.7 percent

Other districts' graduation rates, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI):

• Statewide graduation rate: 77.2 percent

• Bellevue School District: 91.8 percent

• Kent School District: 80.3 percent

• Auburn School District: 81.3 percent

• Seattle Public Schools: 74.8 percent

According to OSPI, different demographics of students have different graduation rates.

• Asian students: 84.4 percent

• White students: 80.4 percent

• Students identified with two or more races: 78.1 percent

• Black students: 67.1 percent

• Hispanic students: 66.7 percent

• Pacific Islander students: 64.5 percent

• American Indian students: 56.8 percent

• Females have a higher graduation rate than males (80.7 percent compared to 73.7 percent).

The graduation rate was calculated by taking the total number of students identified in the ninth grade as the Class of 2012 (in the 2008-09 school year) divided by the total number of students identified as the Class of 2012 during the 2011-12 school year. More information about the calculations can be found here.

School board reaction

Federal Way School Board members were all supportive of Neu's vision.

"I think all the targets are very bold and courageous targets," said board vice president Angela Griffin. "I'm extremely excited about the global initiative work. I think it's very important for our students to have a global experience. This move is huge for our students."

Board member Danny Peterson appreciated Neu's forthrightness about some of the district's struggles, and expressed his feelings that some of the goals set the bar awfully high.

"I appreciate your candidness in talking about where we're at in the district," he said. "We're doing business with eyes wide open around here, and we want to know what the hard facts are. With some of the goals you've given, to me, that is a lot of heavy lifting. I look at this and think, this is going to be a monumental task. But, like you said, I feel if we see one 'ship' rise, we're going to see the whole district rise to a whole new level."

Board member Claire Wilson also chimed in.

"I'm thoroughly excited and I know this is incredibly important work," Wilson said. "I know it's going to make a difference. And I know if we provide what we need to those who need it most, others will benefit also. And it's our job to create that landscape and the opportunity for those things to happen."

"We are on the verge of becoming the 'global district' and I appreciate your work," board member Ed Barney said.

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