Springfield Township High works to get all seniors to graduate

Tayler Doyle (right) with fellow Springfield Township seniors Abby Brown and Jimmy Forbes. She credits guidance counselors with helping her.
Tayler Doyle (right) with fellow Springfield Township seniors Abby Brown and Jimmy Forbes. She credits guidance counselors with helping her.
Posted: March 25, 2011

Tayler Doyle, a senior at Springfield Township High School in Montgomery County, says half-jokingly that guidance counselors are the only reason she's passing her classes and on track to graduate this year.

She says she checks in with her guidance counselor, Mary Soboleski, "like twice a day."

"She's done everything for me to pass," Doyle said Wednesday.

Officials at the school say they work hard to ensure students don't slip through the cracks. "If they are falling behind, we scoop them up pretty quickly and get them on track," said Sylvia Sanfilippo-Cohn, director of special education and student support.

Those efforts appear to have paid off - at least by one measure - last year, when all of the school's seniors graduated, according to a new state report.

School leaders, though pleased with the results, were careful not to gloat.

"I think that comes with a lot of work to retain students, as well as some luck," Superintendent Wendy Royer said. "We're pretty happy about that."

Springfield was also the only district in the Philadelphia region to achieve a 100 percent graduation rate. Out of 681 high schools across the state, it was one of nine to do so. In Philadelphia, the Girard Academic Music Program, Delaware Valley Charter High School, and the Math Civics and Sciences Charter also had all seniors graduate last year.

According to information the state Department of Education released earlier this month about the 2010-11 graduating classes, most districts had a decline in the percentage of seniors receiving diplomas. That change resulted from a new way the state tracks students that provides a more accurate profile of the schools' graduates.

Using that measure, Springfield already knows it will not have a perfect graduation rate this year.

Springfield High principal Greg Puckett attributes much of his school's success to a strong student support base, including a vigorous counseling program.

Another factor, he said, is a weekly meeting of about a dozen staffers who identify and discuss students who might be struggling academically or for other reasons. The group includes the school nurse, guidance counselors, a psychologist, a drug and alcohol counselor, and a social worker.

The team formulates a plan aimed at helping those students lift their grades. Often a call to parents is made.

Sanfilippo-Cohn said Springfield also relied heavily on aides to help students with mild learning disabilities.

The district also offers credit for courses that provide extra support with academic work. "If they're taking an academic science class, we might preteach all the vocabulary, or we might preteach the concept behind an experiment they're going to do," Sanfilippo-Cohn said. "After the experiment is done, we will reread their lab reports. Everything is about trying to support them if they need more time on task."

The instructional aides and extra support classes are intended to catch students while they can still be helped.

The district uses computers to see when students have missed assignments, for example. "We really micromanage them," Sanfilippo-Cohn said. "They're not allowed a month with nobody checking on them."

Among other factors Springfield educators cited is the school's small size. Each of the three guidance counselors is responsible for about a third of the students, who stay with them from ninth through 12 grades.

Anne Geheb, an emotional-support teacher who works with special-education students, said teachers often let her or guidance counselors know when students aren't doing their work or look depressed.

She also credited teachers for keeping a close eye on students for signs of struggling or acting out.

"The faculty is very dedicated and caring about students and how they perform in school, how they do overall," Geheb said. "I think the graduation rate speaks to that."

Senior Jimmy Forbes said teachers were "on top of their game. When something is going on at home, too, most will ask, 'Are you OK?' "

Abby Brown, also a senior, said teachers and guidance counselors made sure students didn't let "senioritis" affect them too much.

"Some people tend to slack senior year, but when they're there to push you, you kind of realize how important it is to pass with good grades, and not just the minimum."

By the Numbers

620: High school enrollment.

$17,875: District spending per student, 2009-10.

549: SAT reading score average, 2009-10.

539: SAT math score average, 2009-10.

$101,355: Township median family income in 2009.

Contact staff writer Adrienne Lu at 215-854-2624 or alu@phillynews.com.


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