BTW graduation rates skyrocket

caines | 5/24/2012, 6 a.m.

Senior David Green beats the odds, wins prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship

Booker T. Washington Senior High has seen its share of challenges and change. With several principals in recent years and less than stellar graduation rates and FCAT scores, some doubted if things would ever turn around. Less than half of their seniors [46.9 percent] graduated in the 2007-2007 school year. Since then, graduation rates have climbed steadily. And with new Principal William Aristide, 46, closing in on 1 years at the helm, theres a new attitude at BTW one that says all students can achieve. As a testament to Aristides leadership, the schools graduation rate now stands at 80.2 percent. The Countys rate is around 72 percent and the State average is in the range of 68 percent, so were very pleased with how we have continued to improve, he said. But this not a solo effort we have a great team. The key is leadership at all levels and our pushing a college culture on our students. Its all about holding teachers and students accountable.

Rising rates mean more going to college

Aristide says that his counseling staff has been instrumental in helping students make sure they have the credit hours needed to graduate on time. And while some have had to make up classes, he notes that with improved grade point averages, more of his students see college as a real option in their lives. Life after high school has become more positive for our kids, he said. We have mentors that meet with them many of whom are teachers. And our parents have bought into this new way of thinking. You have to hold kids accountable, certainly. But parents have a job to do as well. My first goal has been to raise expectation levels across the board. We may be an urban school but thats no excuse for subpar performance. Last year BTW earned a C for the schools FCAT grade and was only four points away from a B. But they were penalized a full grade, resulting in a D. The lowest 25 percent of our students did not move a full grade in reading, he said. Most of those students were special education and ELL kids. But we didnt let that get us down. Many of our students are in advanced placement courses, theyre in dual enrollment classes and we have college readiness courses that are required for everyone. We have also been able to get more students to take the SAT and ACT exams and theyve done well. BTW has a student body of 950. Blacks make up 54 percent; Hispanics total 44 percent. He says his diverse population brings unique challenges. Many of our children are recent immigrants and Spanish is their first language, he said. It amazes me that the State expects them to perform like a native English speaking student on the FCAT in two years. Some kids who have been here their entire lives struggle with the test. Its just not realistic. But we do the best we can.