Oceanside sees sea change in student success

By Stephen Betts | Jun 05, 2018
Source: File photo

Rockland — The class of 2018 at Oceanside High School that marches down the aisles Tuesday evening, June 5, to "Pomp and Circumstance" continues a positive trend for the school district.

The seniors have retained more than 75 percent of their classmates since they entered high school. The same was true of the class of 2017.

For many years, Rockland District High School had the unenviable status of being near the top statewide in students dropping out before graduation.

But a variety of programs at what is now called Oceanside High School have led to dramatic improvements.

The final class of RDHS in June 2011 graduated 80 students, but had started with 136 freshmen. This class lost 41 percent (56 students) of its members by the time it graduated. The first few graduating classes at Oceanside continued that rate of loss. The class of 2014 graduated with 57 fewer students than it began with as freshmen.

The Oceanside class of 2018, however, has seen far fewer students leave during their high school years.

There will be 114 seniors graduating Tuesday night. The class of 2018 started off with 149 freshmen in the fall of 2014. This means the class lost 23 percent (35 students) of its students in the four years of high school. The class of 2017 lost only 19 percent (27 students) of its members on the way to graduation.

Regional School Unit 13 Superintendent John McDonald said there was not just one thing that was done to bring about that improvement, but everything that has been implemented over the past few years.

"We're increasing student engagement. We want them to feel included," McDonald said.

One step taken was the creation of the Fishermen's Academy, which allows students to take programs that have a direct connection to the fishing industry, which lures many young people to go lobstering and skip the completion of their high school education.

There are only five to six students in the program, but the superintendent said those five or six students might have dropped out to go into fishing without the Fishermen's Academy.

Another change was the Freshmen Academy, an effort to focus attention on students during their first year in high school. He said the success or failure of students in their freshmen year is the greatest indicator of whether they will graduate.

The district has also instituted an emotional and social learning emphasis at the middle and high schools.

"Educators in RSU 13 are aware that fostering student growth goes well beyond the academic realm," according to the district's annual educational report for 2018. "Our students’ social and emotional needs are becoming one of the district’s top priorities as schools continue to look for ways to support students both in school as well as through partnering with local community resources."

McDonald is a big supporter of a program known as restorative practices. This is being used at both the high school and middle school. The program focuses on restoring relationships through a reflective process, rather than punishment.

The district believes those steps have reaped benefits.

The past few years have seen the performance of students in the district on testing such as the Maine Educational Assessments fall more in line with the state average.

Attendance rates for students are also closer to the state average than in previous years.

Those statistics have led to the one which is considered the best barometer for a school district -- the graduation rate.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Peter Hill | Jun 05, 2018 09:46

Congratulations for the improvement, but there is still quite a ways to go. The national average is 83% of high school students graduating.  Maine has an average of 86% (2016-17)

Posted by: Nathan Kroms Davis | Jun 05, 2018 07:29

This is really excellent news! Bravo to the district (teachers, board, staff, and others) and Superintendent McDonald! I think that there is nothing — nothing — that will advance our region’s economic prospects better than such continued improvements in academic performance.

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