Nov. 17, 2015
It’s that time again—the season when we are deliberate about counting our blessings and giving thanks. This school community gives me so much hope and joy that my Thanksgiving plate will be heaped with gratitude. My just-begun student advisory panel, my recent meeting with our Bhutanese community, the masterful student-led candidate forum in October, the time I spent substitute teaching in kindergarten classes this fall (I now know many, many versus to “Wheels on the Bus”!)—these are the types of memories I will bow my head over this holiday season.
There is one huge feat, in particular, that we can all celebrate collectively. The state just released graduation-rate information, and Foster High had significant—and I mean significant—increases. We had an almost 15 percentage point increase for all students, with 25+ percentage-point gains for English Language Learners, Hispanic students, and Special Education students. Dozens more teenagers are leaving our school system each year with the key necessary to unlock their successful future: A high-school diploma.
I am proud beyond words. The grad-rate increase was not accidental; it’s due to intentional shifts in instruction, systems, and expectations at the high school, which have required hard work by staff and students alike. Foster educators have reexamined their curriculum and instructional practices, they are dedicated to tracking students in danger of going off track toward graduation, they have expanded credit opportunities, they continually hold college- and career-focused events, and so much more. But there’s something even more fundamental. They believe fiercely in the potential of every student. Especially when a teenager comes to school with almost unimaginable challenges (poverty, language barriers, trauma…), Foster staff members look at them and say, “Yes, you can!” YES, YOU CAN! Our students want the same bright future as their peers across the nation; they just need the support, belief, and vision to get there.
Thank you, Foster students. Thank you, Foster staff. You are working your Bulldog tails off, and the results are clear. The thanks go beyond the school’s walls, too. Thank you to every involved parent, guardian, sibling, and community member—the road to graduation is a partnership that takes wrap-around support from everyone. Thank you to our teachers and staff members at the elementary- and middle-school levels and across departments—you provide the foundation of knowledge, skill, and citizenship that launch our students successfully into high school.
Not to diminish the celebration about our graduation rate in any way, but I also want to take a step back. Graduating in four years is the goal for every student, but it’s not the only measure that counts. Our students come to us with many, many varying levels of preparation for school. We often get teenagers who have not been in a formal education environment before. I have said from my first day in Tukwila that the growth of every child is our most important responsibility. If they need four, five, six, or even more years of high-school education to earn a diploma—I applaud them equally. I am proud of those who didn’t quite make it but who keep going; that takes an extraordinary amount of resiliency and motivation. The Tukwila School District welcomes and cherishes every child; while we strive for a perfect four-year graduation rate, we will not let that ideal hold us back from embracing students who might not get there on time.
One final thought: High-school graduation is not the final destination. It’s the key to future pathways. What you will not see in Foster’s graduation rate is how well our students are set up for success—in further education, in careers, in happiness and satisfaction—after they leave. So I want you to know that our seniors are dreaming bigger and getting connected to their future like never before. They earned more than $3 million in scholarships last year alone. They are going to universities and training programs across the U.S. They are coming back with their own families to be a part of the Tukwila community because it served them so well. They are building the future for all of mankind.
Yes, there’s an abundance for this superintendent to be grateful for on Thanksgiving! Please treasure your time with your loved ones because that’s what counts the most.
Dr. Nancy Coogan, Superintendent