MICHIGAN CITY — After Michigan City Area School achieved its best high school graduation rate ever – across all demographics – this past spring, administrators are doubling their efforts to erase remaining racial gaps among students.
Associate Superintendent Wendel McCollum discussed the district’s push for student equity at a La Porte County NAACP forum at the Michigan City Public Library. He was one of several community leaders to discuss finding solutions to the challenges local students of color face.
McCollum said, according to preliminary numbers, nearly 94 percent of MCHS seniors graduated in June, the best graduation rate in the school’s history.
White students – about 44 percent of the MCAS total – had a 92 percent graduation rate, while black students – about 33 percent of all students – were just behind with a 91 percent rate. Hispanic, Asian and multiracial students, who make up the remaining student population, had a 100 percent graduation rate.
The rate is a tremendous spike over 2018’s 75 percent, which McCollum attributed to a documentation error, not a lack of student achievement. The figure is also much improved from numbers the school saw more than a decade ago, when only around 60 percent of seniors graduated.
“This is something we should all be celebrating, the fact we have a school that is majority-minority and is pushing out a graduation rate like this,” McCollum said.
Despite the success, there are still some areas where administrators have yet to level the playing field between demographics, McCollum said.
Among those is the district’s out-of-school suspension rate among white and black students – 13 percent and 26 percent, respectively. It is an issue that is concerning regardless of the racial gap as districts shouldn’t have suspension rates higher than 10 percent, he said.
“This is something we need to look at with regards to training on positive behavior support and expectations for our students,” he said. “Also, (we need) other discipline approaches, to determine whether or not these suspensions warrant students being out of school, and whether there are options or alternatives we can provide the student to ensure they aren’t missing out on instruction.”
To narrow gaps in student achievement, administrators are looking to recruit social workers to support teachers and counselors with struggling students, McCollum said. Providing educators with training on implicit bias and other topics about racial equity is another priority, he said.
MCAS leaders must also continue to recruit and retain a diverse staff, McCollum added.
“This is a critical piece,” he said. “If you read any research or literature in terms of how to support black males or black females in schools, it helps to have them work with people who look like them.”
The state Department of Education has many tools for MCAS and other school corporations to help provide a more equitable educational experience, according to Robin LeClaire, director of school improvement for the DOE.
For example, state experts have worked with Michigan City math educators to provide them with best teaching practices to help increase test scores. The department also helped the district determine the error that led to last year’s dip in graduation rate.
The DOE also plans to provide local teachers with training intended to help educators be more mindful of cultural differences among students, LeClaire said.
She praised MCAS officials for possessing a “tolerance for truth” and not merely brushing over racial gaps among students.
“Michigan City is on the right track, by asking folks in, by getting those resources, by facing those truths and bringing them to light,” LeClaire said.
“We at the Department of Education want to be a partner with MCAS to make sure those disparities are closed, those achievement gaps are closed and that all students are as successful as possible.”