MITCHELLVILLE – Educators who gathered at Newton White Mansion on March 2 had a lot to celebrate. For the 2015 graduation year, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) reached a 79 percent graduation rate (a 2.16 percentage increase over 2014), had two schools make double-digit percentage increases, and saw 10 other schools make significant increases. […]
MITCHELLVILLE – Educators who gathered at Newton White Mansion on March 2 had a lot to celebrate.
For the 2015 graduation year, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) reached a 79 percent graduation rate (a 2.16 percentage increase over 2014), had two schools make double-digit percentage increases, and saw 10 other schools make significant increases.
At the celebration Wednesday, the principals of multiple schools, PGCPS Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell, County Executive Rushern Baker III and county school board members celebrated the school system-wide achievement.
“We are so proud of you and the work that you have done,” Baker said to the principals. “For me as county executive, this is indeed a pleasure. Just thinking about where we came from.”
Baker said the school system has a lot of struggles yet to go through, but has accomplished a lot in such a short amount of time. The 79 percent graduation rate is the highest on record for the school system.
DuVal High School increased by 6.5 percentage points to make a 91.57 percent graduation rate and put it in the 90s for the first time. Fairmont Heights High School and Potomac High School both increased by more than 13 percentage points. Fairmont Heights, with an 86.5 percent graduation rate, reached the 80s for the first time. And although Eleanor Roosevelt High School only increased by a little over 2 percentage points, the school reached the 90s for the first time with 90.44 percent graduation.
Maxwell said the increases are correlated to a great amount of teamwork throughout PGCPS and the dedication and hard work of the educators.
“For two consecutive years, we’ve had really outstanding increases in the graduation rate because of their hard work, their dedication, their focus and it’s the focus of our central office folks who provide support to principals, but it’s our principals, counselors, teachers and students. Everybody’s been a part of this and we’re really, really proud,” he said.
The graduation rate in Prince George’s County in 2010 was near 76.2 percent and dropped to its lowest point of 72.8 percent in 2012, according to data from Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). Since 2012 the graduation rate has steadily increased to 74 percent in 2013 to a 76.59 percent rate in 2014 and 78.75 in 2015, making a total percentage point increase of approximately 5.9 percent and a 7.4 percent increase overall.
The state graduation rate, according to MSDE, is approximately 87 percent and has also risen steadily since 2012 from 83.57 – a 3.9 overall percent increase. The national average graduation rate is 82 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Maxwell said while this data means that hundreds of more students are graduating from PGCPS, the overall goal is to make PGCPS the “greatest district” it can be. Maxwell wants the county to reach the national average and surpass it, but admits chasing the state average is like chasing the county itself because pushing up PGCPS’s graduation rate will push up Maryland’s rate.
“If we could do that in one year, I mean we’ve been growing at 2.47 and 2.16 percent, respectively, over the last two years, if we could hit a little over three and hit 82, I think it would be stellar. If it takes us two years to get there, I won’t be disappointed but I really think we need to be focused on how close we are to that,” he said.
Baker agreed and said, while he is proud of the school system, he still wants more.
“I want everything to happen yesterday, because that’s what I wanted for my children. I wanted it yesterday and I want that for all of our babies, for all of our children,” he said.
Despite the high goals, Maxwell said the educators and administrators have done an incredible job and put in hours of work to make sure students have the support they need.
“We really started in the first year with wanting to raise graduation rates and ninth grade promotion rates because the numbers were almost identical. So, we put in this early warning system for the middle school principals and high school principals so they don’t have to worry about whether Kevin or Johnny or whoever needs support. We’re telling them,” Maxwell said.
Other programs to support students and graduation rates are all in line with the PGCPS strategic plan and include a credit recovery system, emphasized help for struggling students, a transition program for students moving from middle school to high school, and a language assistant program.
“That’s the work that has led to these really great gains and we’ve had schools that have double-digit increases, two schools with just above 13 percent, which is just fantastic. Several of these schools are inside the Beltway that had great increases. Some of the others are in the north, south, central part of the county; I mean they are all across the county. It’s not one area or the other, it’s all across this county – the hard work that people are doing,” Maxwell said.
Torrie Walker and Robynne Prince, principals at Fairmont Heights and Potomac High schools, respectively, are two leaders of those aforementioned hard working schools. They were together when they received the news about their school’s graduation percent increases and Walker said she started screaming with delight when she learned her school’s rate increased by more than 13 percentage points.
“I was elated because this was a huge accomplishment for Fairmont Heights. Last year our graduation rate had actually dropped, so to hear it had made the 13.4 percent gains and it was the highest in the county and the state, it was a huge accomplishment,” Walker said.
Walker and Prince said both of their schools have worked hard to support their students. Walker, who has been a principal at Fairmont for three years, said initially she did not understand that graduation rates included entire cohorts rather than just the students who walk across the stage at the end of the year, so she was disappointed with her graduation rates her first year. But, with a better understanding, she said, she and the school refocused their efforts on supporting students from ninth grade until they graduate.
Prince said her school had also dropped in graduation the year before, but the school has “really concentrated in changing the culture” both inside and outside the school. She said by creating a positive environment where students see their teachers care about them, the students feel more comfortable to “take academic risks” and push themselves hard to learn and to achieve.
“When people see that you are first of all very serious about that, then you create a positive environment where students feel they can take risks to be academically successful and their teachers want to help them by any means necessary, that becomes contagious,” Prince said. “And so, it has reverberated throughout the community,”
Maxwell said it is the work done at Fairmont Heights and Potomac High schools to foster children and push them toward excellence that is fostering greater and greater achievement and higher graduation rates.
“This doesn’t happen because one or two teachers are doing it. This is happening because everybody is getting on board with the work that has to be done and buying into that work and changing the culture of an organization this size is not easy, but these principals have really, really shown that they are data focused and instruction oriented and they’re making a difference for our children,” Maxwell said.