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L.A. school board members dream of 100% graduation

L.A. school board members dream of 100% graduation
A graduation cap from the Los Angeles Unified School District continuation high school graduation at the East L.A. College football stadium. (Harrison Hill / Los Angeles Times)

Every student must graduate. Every teacher, every principal and the school superintendent should make that their mission.

So said Los Angeles school board members Tuesday when they met with Supt. Michelle King and an outside facilitator to go over King's draft of a three-year strategic plan.

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Her plan includes a push to increase popular school options such as magnets and dual-language programs, as well as modest gains on standardized tests and in the graduation rate year to year.

But school members kept coming back to one theme: 100% graduation.

"I don't think that we have a mission sense right now and I think it is our role to create it," board president Steve Zimmer said during the meeting, which was held at the USC Caruso Catholic Center. "It has to be big, and the strategic plan should fall in line behind that."

Board members agreed that 100% graduation works as a mission because it is a goal that every school can work toward, from preparing students in early childhood to providing mental health resources in elementary school and dropout prevention in high school.

A number of individual schools — public, charter and private — have claimed 100% graduation. But such claims invariably crumble on close examination.

King's proposal is at least the second version of her plan. A previous draft, obtained by The Times, was confidentially circulated in August. The current iteration has somewhat more ambitious goals.

The goals include increasing the graduation rate from 75% to 81% by 2019, and increasing the percentages of Advanced Placement students, and students who graduate with Cs or higher. Goals for younger students include getting 81% of second graders to meet early literacy benchmarks by 2019, and increasing scores on state standardized tests for all grade levels.

L.A. Unified's 2016 graduation rate was 75%, its highest ever. The district, however, has received some criticism for its use of high-school credit recovery classes to achieve the increase.

King said after the meeting that everything in her plan already aligns with a 100% graduation goal. But she said she likely will change "the way it's ... framed and packaged." She will present an updated version of the plan to the board in a month.

The current plan is thin on strategies for achieving these goals.

Once the board approves the plan, King said, she will produce a framework that guides but does not overwhelm teachers and principals.

Board member George McKenna cautioned that the district needs other goals beyond 100% graduation, which it has never achieved.

"It's a wonderful slogan," McKenna said during the meeting. "How do we reconcile that with we'll probably never get to 100%?"

Staff reporter Howard Blume contributed to this report.

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