Superintendent's Message, Nov. 20, 2018

  • Dr. Cohn
    Dear friends and neighbors: 

    When the latest high school graduation rates were announced last week, we heard the cheers across the state!

    For the eleventh year in a row, our work has resulted in more students earning high school diplomas in four years than ever before in Everett Public Schools.

    Some school critics have dismissed our practice of “doing whatever it takes” to support each student’s success as making graduation too easy or helping students too much. Lance Bella, principal of Everett High, heard that criticism and responded with words he described as “fired up.” He demonstrates why such criticism is an irresponsible dismissal of students whose potentials, through no fault of their own, have been limited by the zip codes in which they live or the cards life has dealt them.

    Here’s how Lance put it in a message to EHS staff. These are his words, and I so approve his message for all who share our belief in each student’s abilities and who are passionate about equity in education.

    “We are not the only district with high graduation rates. In fact, many affluent districts across the country often achieve similarly high rates. The correlation between the level of affluence in a district and its graduation rates has long been known. What is often not mentioned are the myriad supports in affluent districts that remain hidden and out of conversation.

    These are available to people with means. For example, a cottage industry of tutors-for-hire run hourly sessions costing anywhere from $50 an hour to over $200 an hour. Many families can’t afford those tutors but use them on a regular basis. There’s nothing wrong with that, as every family wants to do whatever they can to help their child succeed. However, that is somehow seen as more acceptable than a teacher coming in during the middle of the summer to sit side-by-side with the student who perhaps needs only her algebra credit to graduate. To ignore one support while questioning the merit of the other seems odd.

    Another cottage industry available to people of means are “college guidance specialists.” These people know the application and college system deeply; they work with families to ensure students have the right resume to get them into exactly the college they wish to enter. I briefly worked with an English teacher who recognized this opportunity. She left the classroom, and within three years was making more than the district superintendent. Such specialists often charge $1,500 to $5,000 to “counsel” students and their families on what exactly they need to do to get where they want to go. Again, I am not arguing against this kind of support. I am merely suggesting that it is an example on the other end of the spectrum of how far families of means will and can go to help their students find success.

    We live in a culture in which those who have access to wealth also have access to supports that the rest of us simply do not share. My point is this: at EHS we have a staff who works hard to mitigate imbalance in our culture that, at its root, rises out of these inequities. We are doing great work, and we are changing the trajectory of the lives of students whose only support lies in the classrooms in which they sit, with teachers who refuse to ever give up on a single kid. Thank you all for the hard work you do every day to make Everett High a place that proudly does whatever it can to make sure that equity and access to the promise of the American Dream is afforded to all.”

    Thank you, Lance, for speaking out and standing up for each student and every staff member at Everett High. Thank you also for allowing me to use your words to extend that advocacy to those who help us with this work.

    I am humbled, thankful and proud to work in a district that ensures more students earn diplomas which are key to their futures beyond high school.

    Gary Cohn, Superintendent