Encourage your elected officials to support SB 5343, the High School Success Bill

There are destinations where we live that are not connected by roads. To get there, you must find alternative means - by air, by boat or by foot. I’m the proud principal of Chelan High School. Getting all of our students to graduation day feels like this too, sometimes. But our job, as the educators and adults that see them every day, is to help them find their path to their high school diploma, whatever it takes.

The Washington Roundtable has identified that there will be 740,000 job openings in Washington by 2021. The challenge is that the majority of those opportunities require training or college after graduation, and currently Washington’s graduation rate is in the bottom 10. A coalition of organizations that is diverse in mission but united in the common belief that we must help Washington’s students stay in and finish school is supporting the High School Success Bill that is currently underway in Olympia. The bill is data-tested and the programs it supports are succeeding across our state and elsewhere in our country. I know, because the programs are working at my school.

At Chelan High School, 96% of our students graduated last year. Our goal is 100% with 80% destined for post-secondary education. Additionally, we want to increase the percentage of our graduates with a 3.0 GPA. I have urged my elected leaders to support SB 5343 because of students who walk our hallways every day. I know of a young man who passed the appropriate assessments, earned the required credits his first three years, and found gainful employment. But he also quit school and was locking himself into low paying jobs. Because of programs like the ones supported in SB 5343, we were able to track him down, meet with him repeatedly, and put together a personalized plan to get him on track. Today he is back in class with a schedule that will allow him to earn credit to graduate and work a job in a manner that allows him to support his family. He is also considering post-secondary education.
High school principals are facing a changing environment that affects classes and teachers. Most importantly, there are things that affect kids that we are aware of, and other things that keep kids from succeeding that we miss. The High School Success bill tackles these dynamics head-on. For example, the findings of research on the importance of freshmen year cannot be argued with. The bill includes programs like the one at my school for at-risk freshmen coming to us from 8th grade. We have adults and upper-class peer mentors who work with them one period per day. This approach changes the paradigm for underserved students by ensuring their success as freshmen and their enrollment in advanced coursework that might not happen otherwise. Preventing dropouts, ensuring freshmen stay on track, raising enrollment in dual credit classes, and ensuring that we have on time graduates is going to take additional school counselors and capacity building throughout the system. Each of these critical measures is supported in SB 5343.
I’m asking my lawmakers to support the High School Success Bill because our current model for facilitating high school success in Washington must improve. In this neck of the woods we know how to get places even without a road. It’s time to support this legislation to create pathways for Washington kids’ futures.
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Brad Wilson is the principal at Chelan High School and previously served as Chelan Middle School Principal for 3 years. Prior to moving to Chelan with his wife and 2 school aged children, he worked in the Grand Coulee Dam School District for 11 years. He earned a BA in Social Studies Education with an English minor from Washington State University, a MA in Teaching and Teacher Education from the University of Arizona, and his Washington State Principal and Superintendent credentials from Washington State University.

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