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Graduating from high school is a pivotal moment in one’s life—a juncture between adolescence and adulthood.

Shockingly, far too many young adults in the St. Cloud area leave K-12 unprepared for college and careers, draining our economy and hurting our community.

It is up to us—all of us—to change that in 2014.

Define success, chart progress
As seniors begin their last semester of high school and our elected officials start the 2014 legislative session, let’s reflect on local student performance.

While we fail to prepare students, we still graduate them from high school.

Consider recent proficiency and graduation figures from the Minnesota Department of Education:

  • St. Cloud school district: 48 percent of high school students were proficient or above in reading and math, and 73 percent of graduated on time.
  • Sauk Rapids-Rice proficiency: 61 percent; graduation rate: 91 percent.
  • Sartell-St. Stephen proficiency: 70 percent; graduation rate: 97 percent.
  • Rocori proficiency: 73 percent; graduation rate: 94 percent.

The average proficiency-graduation margin: 25-plus percent.

Enough numbers, what does this mean?

It means we send unprepared young adults into the world. It means more, higher and redundant taxes because underperforming high school classes necessitate remedial classes in state colleges. (About 40 percent of students require remedial coursework in college.) It means we set the benchmark for “success” at 75 percent.

We can do better.

And doing better doesn’t start with blaming superintendents or teachers. Blame doesn’t educate a student; it only shows an unwillingness to take responsibility.

We need a strong, community vision for our schools. Then we need to move forward on it, and to make sure our legislators move forward on it, too.

Success emanates from an ethos that values education for all.

What can we do to help students succeed? As a recent graduate of Sartell and a current college student, I have some ideas on how to make sure other students leave high school ready for what comes next:

  • Schools can better highlight academic success above everything else. We could showcase academic achievement correlating to career and life success by displaying more student academic accomplishments. Or exhibit profiles of successful alumni. They should be our role models. Over time, I’d bet students would notice a pattern: Those who thrive academically have fruitful lives.
  • Let’s celebrate schools that are changing the academic odds for students, not just the school that wins the state hockey championship. MinnCAN, for example, makes Top 10 lists to shine a light on the schools that are posting noteworthy gains for students. Let’s examine those lists and call out the academic achievement of our top schools.
  • Students, we must take responsibility for ourselves, for we are the ones who suffer when we’re not prepared for our futures. Not having enough time, not liking the material, having a poor teacher and school being “too hard” aren’t excuses. And playing “Call of Duty” instead of studying doesn’t help, either. My solution: Set lofty academic goals, and see what you can do! Plan on attending college—whether it’s community college, online classes or a university—because that’s where Minnesota needs you to land.
  • Teachers need to deploy strategies so every child succeeds. Let’s honor new statewide teacher evaluations as an innovative, long-overdue opportunity that will give teachers real feedback and advance student learning.
  • Finally, as voters, we must assume responsibility. We rallied behind statewide efforts to erect a new Vikings stadium, but failed to concentrate similar energy on a more onerous problem: Minnesota’s unacceptable proficiency rates and achievement gaps.

In 2014, let’s focus on passing smart policy that will improve public schools and better prepare our students for the future. Let’s remember that it will be difficult for our state legislators to pass such policy without our support and involvement, just as it will be difficult for your child to buy tickets to a game at the new stadium if he or she can’t find a job.

In the end, we’re in this together. Instead of becoming complacent with local graduation rates, we must realize the distinction between average and optimal, between graduating from high school and actually being prepared for success.

It’s time to hit the books and call our legislators. Together, we can create a culture of educational responsibility.


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