Big Picture High School graduation rate fails to meet federal standards

Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 8:12 PM
Big Picture High School graduated its first class of 10 students in 2012. All students had been accepted into college, according to an adviser, Manuel Sanchez, who provides congratulations at the class’s graduation. Recently, the high school was identified as needing support and intervention by the Every Student Succeeds Act because of its inconsistent four-year graduation rate.

Durango Big Picture High School has been identified as needing support and intervention by the Every Student Succeeds Act because of its inconsistent four-year graduation rate.

The act targeted Big Picture as a Comprehensive Support and Improvement School, which includes all high schools with graduation rates below 67 percent.

The school is an alternative education campus that uses the Big Picture Learning model, which is centered on individual student growth through community-based internships and self-pacing. The school is one of more than 50 across the country applying the learning model.

Durango School District spokeswoman Julie Popp said students and advisers work together to define how to meet standards and the timeline for doing so.

“It gives them the freedom to meet the standards in their own time. There is a lot of independent study and learning,” she said.

Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law in December 2015, governs the United States K–12 public education system. It gives states more of a say in how schools account for student achievement.

For the 2016-17 school year, 23 graduates at Big Picture represented 65 percent of the total number of enrolled students who should have graduated in four years.

Ninety-five students are currently enrolled for the 2017-18 school year.

Still, the graduation rate improved from the previous year, when 18 graduates represented only 42 percent of the number of students who should have graduated in four years.

The district must submit an improvement plan to the Colorado Department of Education in response to the designation.

The 9-R Board of Education approved the improvement plan at its last meeting on Nov. 14. It includes identifying three risk factors for ninth-graders across the district – attendance, behavior and credit attainment – which could lead to an interview process for potential new students.

The state has to review and approve the improvement plan and set criteria for the school to meet. If it fails to meet the criteria within four years, the state will intervene.

Big Picture Principal Bradley Hardin said school staff is motivated and dedicated to better identifying at-risk students to help them graduate on time.

“If you have students with trauma, sometimes it takes them longer to graduate because they are dealing with a multitude of things,” he said. “It is hard to ask a homeless youth to do a five-page report when they are struggling to get by.”

Hardin said the improvement plan also includes “identifying students who would do well here at an earlier age.”

“Ninth-graders transferring here from Durango High School will be more successful right away, rather than waiting until junior year to transfer when they are behind in credits,” he said.

Hardin said the district is working to create an early-warning system that identifies students who might need a different learning experience than what is provided at Durango High School.

Big Picture High School is eligible for additional funds and related services through the state, which could be used to bring in a representative from Big Picture Learning to assist with the implementation of the early warning system, he said.

Big Picture High School started eight years ago as a program within Durango High. In August 2009, it became an official school and had its first graduating class in 2012.

“There was an identified need that not all students were being successful at DHS, and opposed to losing students to dropouts or other issues, we wanted to provide a different learning model,” Popp said.

Students at Big Picture spend two days each week participating in an internship, where many receive their certifications before graduation.

Popp said students have interned at a variety of businesses in town, including Axxis Audio of Durango, Dancing Willow Herbs and the Boarding Haus.