COOS COUNTY ─ As high school graduation looms, local districts are optimistic that many seniors will earn their diploma on time despite struggles from the pandemic.
But the state is concerned.
Tenneal Wetherell, superintendent at the South Coast Education Service District, said the state overall is concerned with those graduating in 2021 – especially those in underrepresented populations.
“…Which is interesting because the grading process and awarding credit toward graduation is a local district responsibility, not a state responsibility, but we have been working as a collaborative team … with folks around the state to discuss how we might be able to support our seniors in their quest towards graduation,” she said.
These meetings have seen conversations about implementing limited in-person instruction to bring, specifically seniors, in for intensive support. This support would be focused on where students are credit deficient or by assigning a teacher to each senior.
“(The state) is also looking to extend the graduation timeline,” Wetherell said. “We usually get done in May but are looking to extend it into summer so students have time to complete all of the classes that will get them to the finish line.”
Of course, there are times where students are not able to meet credit requirements and “this is the case every year,” she pointed out.
“In those instances, the district would work with those students to come back with a limited capacity or for the entire year timeframe based on the need to finish … but that is not different than any year,” she said.
Coos Bay School District
“There’s a lot of silver linings in education right now,” said Bryan Trendell, superintendent at the Coos Bay School District. “It’s not all gloom and doom. There are challenges for families, kids and staff, but there are silver linings.”
He said projected graduation numbers, as of this week, are like what they have been for the past few years and that the district hasn’t experienced a “big dip” of students being knocked off track due to the pandemic so far.
“We thought we might with the situation we’re in with the distance learning, but we’ve been able to check in with all the seniors,” Trendell said. “Our graduation coaches, counselors and administration has done such a good job making contact and staying in contact with those seniors and keeping them on track.”
Right now, the district is slated to have close to 150 graduating seniors this spring.
Coquille School District
The Coquille School District reported a similar situation for its high school seniors. Superintendent Tim Sweeney said the Coquille High School is “looking as strong as ever with (a projected) 93 percent … on graduation rate.”
Sweeney said he spoke with Coquille High School Principal Jeff Philly, who “is confident we will get the vast majority of (students) through on time.”
However, it is unclear what the projected graduation rates will be at the district’s alternative Winter Lakes High School.
“…We are comfortable at Coquille High School … and we always want to do better to give students additional support who attend Winter Lakes, so they can cross the finish line,” he said. “I’m not sure where they will end up at Winter Lakes, but I think we will hold where we’ve been.”
At Winter Lakes, Sweeney said students graduate once they complete the credits needed for a diploma. The school has already seen its first graduation of the year three weeks ago. When asked if Coquille High School will see a graduation ceremony like last year’s, which went through town as a parade, Sweeney said it is still too soon to make those plans.
“(But) principals feel like we’re on track and as long as we keep students engaged and moving forward, we like where we’re sitting at the moment,” he said.
North Bend School District
Meanwhile in the North Bend School District, anywhere from 87 to 95 percent of the senior class are expected to graduate, according to North Bend High School Principal Darrell Johnston.
“So, our graduation rates this year will be … interesting,” he wrote in an email, explaining there are 181 seniors right now and 159 are expected to graduate. “…Of those from this cohort still enrolled, nine are struggling and likely to not graduate on time… (But) we won’t know the graduation rate of the entire cohort until after the end of the school year….”
Johnston went on to explain that the pandemic is impacting these projected rates in complex ways. He said some students are working and have become the primary earners for their families.
“Not graduating on time does not deter them because they are already making money,” he wrote, stating that these students are already making a livable wage.
The district’s Superintendent Kevin Bogatin said, “it is a little easier to graduate this year because state testing wasn’t a requirement.”
Bogatin added the district is now just looking at credit attainment, among “a few other things.”
“I feel like we will hit similar numbers that we have in the past and see close to 90 percent of students graduate,” Bogatin said, echoing Coos Bay and Coquille school districts.
Bogatin expects there to be summer opportunities for seniors who don’t graduate on time. The district is also working on building its alternative education program, Bridges, to help work around student schedules and help them earn a diploma.
As for what graduation might look like this year, Bogatin hopes to do more than last year’s “drive thru” but does not see a traditional ceremony happening.
“…I am thinking some outdoor opportunity but would love for our band to play for the students, a couple speeches, (and) that alone would be a step further (than last year),” he said. “…Our board is not interested in planning events that bring large groups of people together.”
Bogatin has a son who is a senior at North Bend High School and observed that throughout this historic year of traversing the pandemic, “he doesn’t really know what he’s missed.”
“When you live with a student going through this, they don’t know anything different,” he said. “It’s us that knows what it is like to be at football games and have those experiences. (Right now) I think he is looking forward to the next step.”
The Bandon School District did not respond by deadline to interview requests for this story.
South Coast ESD Superintendent Tenneal Wetherell encourages students or families concerned about the graduation timeline to reach out to their school principals, counselors or teachers for more information on how to get help.