Over the past three years, Eatonville High School has raised its graduation rate from 87 percent to 95 percent. And school officials say the dream of every senior graduating at Eatonville some day is within reach because of the support of teachers and counselors in an environment that’s focused on student success.

Educators hope the success at the high school level helps the Eatonville School District become an example of what a rural district can do in the 21st century. The goal is for Eatonville to be on the same level or ahead of many districts, rural or urban.

According to graduation specialist Cathy Kerr, putting and keeping all the students in 9th through 12th grades – there are about 600 of them this year – on a path to academic success is a six-step process. In recognition that the needs of each student are different, the process includes:

• Each student is assessed and a plan is developed for them. Plans are continually updated to meet each individual’s circumstances.

• Students are informed of the multiple pathways to earning a diploma.

• A “credit-recovery class” within the school day and during spring break, in addition to summer school for catching up on credits. Students can also attend an alternative learning.

• A working relationship with outside programs that lead to industry certifications and college credit. The programs include BatesTechnical College, Tacoma Community College, Clover Park Technical College, and Pierce County Skills Center.

• A weekly grade-check in each student’s advisory class.

Kerr said this process helps seniors perform better during the first semester of a school year. For instance, at the end of the first semester of the 2014-15 school year, 50 seniors failed at least one class. In 2015-16, that number dropped to 30 seniors. And during the first semester of this school year (2016-17), the number was reduced to 11 seniors.

Principal John Paul Colgan credits the improvement to the students’ response to teachers and the calculated efforts which took place at all grade levels from September through January.

“The kids know we care. Students are motivated for different reasons and expect to be hassled if they aren’t passing their classes or aren’t coming to school on a regular basis,” Colgan said.

Last November, a key month for following through on academic performance, counselors presented graduation requirements and credits to the ninth-graders. The 57 freshmen who were failing one or more classes received a note to meet with counselors, Kerr and Colgan. At each meeting, they were given more information about credits, transcripts, and strategies to improve their grades. Two weeks later, 18 of the freshmen had gotten their grades up and were passing.

“We are teaching kids to own their credits,” Kerr said.

At the schoolwide parent-teacher conferences in November, Kerr and the school counselors met with any students who were credit-deficient. The conferences allowed parents and their students to help create a plan to improve their grades. Students who missed conferences received a progress report in their advisory class and an opportunity to register for the spring credit retrieval class.

Kerr noted the stigma that exists with credit retrieval. Some would say a few students dismiss their classes only to take credit retrieval because they feel it’s a quicker solution. But at Eatonville, the focus is on students trusting themselves to become better learners.

The buy-in of students and the support of parents is critical to students' long-range success, school officials note.

“Not all comprehensive high schools fit the needs of all students,” Colgan said. “The most meaningful thing is to see graduates come back and visit. These students speak of their successes in technical school, the military, Job Corps, community colleges or universities. Our job as leaders is to encourage students throughout their lives, not just to graduation day.”

Colgan said that when Kerr “follows up on how our students are performing away from EHS, she finds the majority are still enrolled, making progress, and doing well,” confirming that Eatonville grads are good candidates for success after high school.

“We have a great team working to find the best plan for each student,” Kerr said. “It does take more time and energy, but the result is meeting individual student needs for success.”