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KNOW_Summer_2016_Digital

12 | KNOW • Volume 14 Issue 2 “We have a picture of every child along with their name and with their test scores,” said Popoola. “Any piece of data we have on them. And then we look at those names daily. Who’s moving towards graduation? Who needs help? That is what helped us to increase our graduation rate. We are very intentional with what we do with our students.” Woodley admits she had to change the culture of the school and build buy-in from the staff at first. Educators were so overwhelmed with learning barriers they had embraced low expectations for success. With Woodley’s guidance, they enlisted community partners and experts to confront learning barriers head on. After assessing the biggest learning barriers – homelessness, poverty and mental health - the school completely revamped its master schedule, course offerings and approach. The structural changes “fostered a mindset of failing forward,” Woodley said in a recent presentation to peer principals. “If it doesn’t work we can change it,” she said. “But let’s be willing to do something.” The McClarin motto is simple: success is the only option. Educators are now referred to as dream builders. “We call them dream builders and dream team members because our students come to us with no hope. And their job is to really build their dreams in addition to the academic support,” said Woodley. McClarin’s educators say you cannot create a successful intervention model without daily intervention to address learning barriers swiftly. “We had a student who didn’t know about job corp,” Popoola said. “They needed to work and go to school. This child was missing days of school. We were able to put this child into job corp. This child was a household provider. We have students who work at night. We make sure their schedule starts at noon, third period. When they get off work, they get some sleep, and they are here to 6 pm. Student attendance at McClarin was atrocious, says Woodley. The dream team investigated to find out why. It became obvious that the traditional school hours of 8 am to 2 pm were not working for the majority of students. So McClarin revamped school hours and course offerings similar to a college campus. The school is now open from 8 am until 7 pm weekdays and on Saturdays. It’s also open year round. McClarin enrolls and graduates an estimated 100 students every nine weeks. Meanwhile, educators remain vigilant about attendance. “If a student misses three days of school, the absences are investigated. They are contacting parents, a student gets an attendance contract and home visits are made. The whole circle of support is put into place to make sure the students are not falling through the cracks,” Woodley said. McClarin leverages community partnerships to plug the cracks. It relies on nonprofits, businesses and colleges and universities to instill a sense of hope every step of the way. Organizations such as Family’s First and Access Mental Health provide ongoing counseling services. The City of College Park offered free sports programs and special library programs for teen parents. Students routinely work with local businesses for job training opportunities and placements. Others attend college and university tours to explore higher education after graduation – a pathway most students would give up on at traditional schools. At McClarin, each student is encouraged to reach farther because the school has built-in relationships with community leaders, employers and higher-education institutions. The dramatic shift in hours and injection of wraparound services has delivered big results for both educators and students. McClarin’s graduation rate rose from 19 percent to 49 percent in just two years. The school is measured against traditional schools and has no waivers. In its third year under the grant, it’s no longer on the priority list for failing schools, though it still received an “F” from Gov. Nathan Deal’s report card. Woodley notes that current benchmarks ignore big gains and transformative student stories. Students enter McClarin already behind on their course requirements but quickly catch up under the community school model. Some students graduate in two years instead of three. “It’s kind of a slap in the face,” Woodley said, considering McClarin’s dramatic turnaround. “The problem is that people are not educated on the work. You can’t come in and say you’re going to take over anything. You’re not going to have the success. You have to go in and you have to do an assessment. Every school has different DNA.” McClarin’s dream team received a five-star rating from Georgia’s Department of Education. They increased their CCPRI scores and made a 24-point gain in their graduation rate. Their educators received Georgia’s innovative teacher awards and will be featured in an upcoming PBS special. If it doesn’t work we can change it,” but let’s be willing to do something.


KNOW_Summer_2016_Digital
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