Everett School District chosen for group focused on post-grad outcomes

EVERETT — A national education group has a goal to have every high schooler go somewhere: Whether that be the military, trade school, labor apprenticeships, community college or four-year university.
But how can every student get their best chance?
The group working to crack barriers has handpicked the Everett School District and seven other U.S. school districts to help with its mission.
The National Postsecondary Strategy Institute (NPSI) will study what works in motivating middle school youth and teenagers to continue their educations, and root-out the causes on what doesn’t.
“It’s really an amazing opportunity for us,” said Everett’s Cathy Woods, the district’s director for College and Career Readiness & On-time Graduation and Cascade High’s prior principal.
The seven districts will receive services and guidance from the national organization and share ideas.
“Through this network, I think we’ll gain ideas on how to be more strategic and streamlined” on how counselors can individually assist students to continue their educations, Woods said.
NPSI is developing a best-practices model for counselors and district leaders to prepare high schoolers from all backgrounds, and in all sizes of school districts, to be ready for post-graduation.
To produce the model, they’ll dig into the data.
They’ll equip high school counselors with ways to show teenagers the multiple paths available to them, and where to access help.
“NPSI’s vision is a vision for all students,” said NPSI co-founder Joyce V. Brown, to remove barriers to secondary school for students least likely to go.
Data will identify who’s falling behind and how to change their course, said NPSI co-founder Kelly Sparks.
The idea is “the kids get an additional credential (...) to put them into a living-wage job,” Brown said.
Chief among barriers is finances. Self-esteem matters, too, Woods said.
Sparks said school counselors could be taught how to data-mine to know which families haven’t filed for a FAFSA — The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, used for college opportunities — to nudge them into doing so.
Everett was tapped in part because it is already doing many things to improve student progress. Its high school graduation rate climbed in 15 years from just three-fifths of students getting their diploma to now 95.9 percent in the 2018-2019 school years.
Its next step is to lift its numbers on student outcomes after their handing over the diploma and the student proceeds through early adulthood.
For example, the district has advanced-placement classes that it wants to ensure students of all backgrounds participate. It holds a “high school and beyond night” where students fill out their FAFSA and meet college admissions representatives.
Everett is involved in a program called AVID (Advancement in Individual Determination), an academic elective for college readiness that starts as early as middle school and individually supports their progress. The students in AVID often are from groups that are underserved in college; one example is first-in-the-family college students. Everett has 247 middle school students taking AVID and 395 students combined at Everett, Cascade and Jackson high schools, from numbers Woods provided.
Another program called Gear Up tracks a cohort group that went to North Middle as they proceed through high school and on the path to college.
A few other things might not be well known. For example, bilingual high school students can take competency tests in their home language — and it’s offered in more than 25 languages. Passing a language test can earn them up to four high school credits without spending the time in a language course, and the credits can be used toward college. This frees them up to focus on obtaining other class credits needed for college entrance requirements.
Counselors have tools such as one that tracks student progress, and another that tracks school attendance issues.
“Each student has their own story, and their own path and needs their own supports,” Woods said. “We’ve been talking in our district about changing from numbers to names” when discussing academic progress.
Multiple school districts sought to be part of the inaugural group of network members, NPSI leaders said.
“Everett had a very competitive application, with a very clear commitment to post-secondary success,” Sparks said on why Everett was selected.
The Kresge Foundation is funding each district’s participation.
NPSI leaders were familiar with Everett from meeting retired Superintendent Gary Cohn at a conference. Brown also has visited Everett as a consultant. “Dr. Joyce Brown’s work has been informing our work for a number of years,” Woods said.
The NPSI organization is small but mighty: Its team of five was founded by three educators with more than 100 years of experience in education working in Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district.
Sparks did Chicago’s data research and has a school consulting firm. Brown spent 30 years as a school counselor before moving up to a district-wide leadership role on counseling strategies. NPSI’s third co-founder, Greg Darnieder, established the student development department within Chicago’s school district and worked on student college access issues under U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in the Obama administration.
NPSI is partner to* former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative to usher high schoolers into college, which launched during Obama’s presidency and today is a nonprofit.



* - Update: This version clarifies information on NPSI's connection with the Reach Higher Initiative. It modifies the story from the print version.