Focus on graduation

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo High School is again using retired teachers and others to provide extra help to its seniors at risk of not graduating.
For the second consecutive year, the school has hired part-time tutors for its seniors who have not passed at least one of the five state Subject Area Tests. Students must pass those exams before they can graduate.
“It provides instruction in a small group, or one-on-one, which is what they need,” THS Testing Coordinator Talina Knight said of the tutoring.
THS has 61 of its 428 seniors who have yet to pass one of the five tests – algebra I, biology I, English II, English II Writing and U.S. history. Last year, the school had 112 such seniors at this point, and all but 14 of them passed their needed tests before graduation.
Retired former Tupelo teachers Anita Llewellyn (algebra), Bob Monroe (U.S. history), Sherry McKenzie (English II) and Judy Loden (English II) and TPSD parent and former teacher Andi Hildenbrand (biology) are leading the sessions.
They are available throughout the school day, and students come at various times as their schedules allow. Seniors who have yet to pass all of their state tests are required to attend two 45-minute sessions each week.
“We are trying to reach our kids during the school day as best we can,” said TPSD Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon.
Some come during senior leave time and others do so during an elective. Most sessions have about four or five students. Various Saturday sessions have also been available, and the district purchased an online tutorial students can access at home.
Thirty THS seniors must pass one state test in order to graduate and 22 must pass two tests.
Forty nine seniors have yet to pass the U.S. history test and 30 must get past English II. Thirteen have not had success on biology, eight on algebra and two on the writing test.
Some of those students may already have passed needed tests. Results from December’s tests will not be available until next month and those from a U.S. history test given last week won’t be back until later.
Seniors have only two remaining opportunities to pass the tests in order to graduate, one in March and one in May. However, they must pass the March test to be able to walk in their graduation ceremonies.
Knight said the MDE may also add an additional re-test opportunity for U.S. history, which was recently changed to a new test that is much more difficult and analytical. In December, the state had more than 3,000 seniors who had yet to pass that test, she said.
In addition to the tutoring, THS administrators are also paying special attention to a group of 79 seniors at risk of not graduating for various reasons, including those who still need to pass state tests.
Principal Jason Harris, as well as the school’s assistant principals, its testing coordinator, special education chair, graduation coach and dropout prevention officer have divided that list, taking a small number of students they meet with regularly.
Their charge is to mentor the students, visit with them and their families and monitor their grades, attendance and progress toward graduation.
“We’ve tried to make it a personal relationship with each of the students and their parents so they know they have someone they can go to,” Harris said. “You see all the stress in their eyes. It is almost graduation, and it is crunch time.”
THS graduation is May 17.

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