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Graduation snags at Mabton High upset several parents

MABTON - The switch from a trimester to semester system in the Mabton School District has not been without hitches, but the district is doing its best to work with parents.

That's according to Superintendent Minerva Morales, responding to charges the district let down several seniors who finished just short of having enough credits to graduate last month.

Rachael Sanchez is one of those parents, and she says her son Josh found out he was half a credit short just two weeks before graduation.

"I paid money for the cap and gown," Sanchez said. "If they knew he was missing half a credit they should have said something."

Josh Sanchez said he was told he had made up the half credit missing in math, only to find out he was still a little short.

"I made up half a credit and out of nowhere they said I needed another half credit," he says. "When you're growing up with your friends you can't wait to walk with them."

Sanchez, who'll play basketball at Walla Walla Community College, is keeping the disappointment in perspective.

"It was a bummer, but then I just thought about it and as long as I get my diploma that's what matters," said Sanchez, who is completing summer school.

Rachael Sanchez says it also concerned her that photos of her son and some other seniors were removed from a photo slide show during the graduation ceremony.

That assessment was backed by another parent in the district, who wished to remain anonymous because she works for Mabton schools.

She says her son did walk with his class, but that many of his pictures were removed from the slide show. "Everybody worked hard to be a part of this. It's not fair that some get baby pictures (in the slide show) and some don't," she said.

Due to a state law requirement, her son was able to walk with his class even though he was a half credit short because he is a special education student.

The parent took exception to a listing by her son's name in the graduation program showing his status as pending. "They have never done that in the past," she said.

Morales is superintendent of Mabton schools, and she says the district did everything it could to work with seniors and their parents.

"It's unfortunate those folks or parents are feeling that," she said. "I really feel that there has been a proactive approach to keep students from falling through the cracks."

Morales said at the start of the 2011-12 school year it was known that several seniors - about 30 - would have a hard time making graduation requirements with the switch from trimesters to semesters.

"Beginning last summer we did a close analysis of incoming senior transcripts, making sure we were filling any possible holes," Morales said. "In the process there were several seniors identified as credit deficient or at the least would have to pass all their classes for the 2011-12 school year."

Morales says the district formed a graduation team. Six months after the start of the school year, during a March school board meeting, district staff reported that 80 percent of seniors were on track for graduation, up from just over 60 percent at the start of the school year.

She says intervention efforts to help more seniors graduate included extra study time, additional math offerings, credit retrieval and tutorial support.

In addition monthly meetings were offered for senior parents.

"Several opportunities were established to make sure they graduated," Morales says.

One of the complications for seniors this year is a new state requirement that students either pass an end-of-course exam or take four years of math.

The Mabton School District didn't get the exam data back until a month before graduation, Morales noted. That was too late for students who did not pass the exam to make up additional credits if they did not pass all of their math classes.

She says of the 30 or so seniors in trouble at the start of the school year, at least half were able to graduate.

"In a perfect world I would have loved for all of them to make it through," says Morales. "But there were other variables such as grades and absenteeism."

She admits, though, that the district can do a better job of communicating with parents, especially those with children in middle school and high school.

"If there's any place for growth it is to establish a better partnership with parents," Morales says. "This doesn't begin when they are seniors, but much earlier on so parents are well informed of what it takes for their child to graduate."

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