The Natrona County school board completed its preliminary work on its next set of strategic goals last week, settling on high expectations across the board.
The five goals will now be handed to the Natrona County School District’s administrators to hammer out the pathways to achieve those goals. Once fully shaped and then approved later this summer, the goals will become the benchmark by which Wyoming’s second-largest school district will judge itself over the next five years.
If all goes according to the draft blueprint, the district will hit an 86 percent graduation rate for its three traditional high schools; every school will meet state expectations; all third- through eighth-graders will meet English testing targets; all district “environments” will be “safe, orderly, supportive, and conducive to a climate of high expectations”; and the district community will be at least 80 percent satisfied with Natrona County schools.
The previous goals, which were supposed to be met by this year, had mixed results. The district fell short on its previous graduation goal of 85 percent; was well below the 100 percent meeting expectation goal; and likely didn’t meet testing targets. It did have good customer satisfaction scores, its fourth goal.
The shortcomings of the past five years have animated the recent discussion about these newest goals. While the graduation rate has ticked upward — from 75.4 percent five years ago to 78 percent in 2018 — it’s still well short of the 85 percent goal. Board members lamented that Roosevelt, the district’s alternative school, has dragged down the numbers for Natrona County High and Kelly Walsh, which have both hit record-high graduation rates in recent years.
With that concern in mind, the board has broken out its graduation rate goals. The draft approved last week would set one 2022 four-year graduation goal for Roosevelt — 65 percent — and another for NC, KW and Midwest — 86 percent. The traditional schools’ goal is lower than the 88 percent goal considered a few weeks ago; board members and the district’s upper-level staff say they decided to reduce the goal a bit after talking with high school officials.
Still, if the 86 percent rate is achieved in the next five years, the district will have successfully upped its graduation rate for its traditional high schools by 10 points in 10 years.
Of the five new benchmarks the board is currently considering, the graduation rate goal took the most shaping. The board generally agreed on the other four. While the graduation goal has a high degree of visibility and difficulty for the district, and high immediate impact on the lives of students who do graduate, the 100 percent rating for Natrona County schools will be no easy feat, either.
Last year, about a third of schools here met the state’s expectations. Just one — Evansville — exceeded expectations.
But district administrators have repeatedly said they’re confident the goal can be met. Walt Wilcox, the district’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, reiterated that last Monday. Dirk Andrews, who heads the county’s education association, noted too that other districts currently have a 100 percent rating.
“It goes well beyond a wish and a hope that schools meet or exceed expectations,” Superintendent Steve Hopkins said Monday. He noted the individual work plans schools will put together. “It’s a little stronger than we just ‘hope’ every school, or we ‘wish’ every school, or we ‘want’ every school. It’s more intentional.”