More than two months after publicly challenging statistics released by the California Department of Education, which showed the Morgan Hill Unified School District had the lowest graduation rate in the county, MHUSD released adjusted numbers that tell a different story.
The new data, which MHUSD’s Director of Technology Denis Guerrero and district staff spent many hours re-calculating – shows an 88 percent graduation rate (up from the previous county-low of 78.4 percent) and a 10 percent dropout rate (an improvement from the prior 17 percent).
The adjusted dropout rate shows Morgan Hill schools have the sixth lowest dropout rate in the county behind Los Gatos/Saratoga, Mountain View/Los Altos, Palo Alto, Milpitas and San Jose Unified School Districts, according to MHUSD.
It also puts MHUSD’s adjusted 88 percent graduation rate at the sixth highest - above that of Gilroy Unified School District’s 85 percent. The state’s average graduation and dropout rates are 77.1 and 14.7 percent; the county’s average graduation and dropout rates are 81.1 and 13.2 percent.
Since contesting the data released April 9, MHUSD Superintendent Wes Smith maintained the faulty numbers placing Morgan Hill dead last for graduation rates could be blamed on inaccurate information initially submitted by the district.
Guerrero and staff contacted parents of former MHUSD students who left the district for unspecified reasons and documented exactly where they had gone. As it turns out, more than half (67 of 122) of the students originally deemed dropouts in the data submitted by MHUSD to the CDE for evaluation were not.
“Hopefully, this is a lesson learned moving forward, so the district will provide accurate data the first time around,” said Board trustee Rick Badillo. “We’re still not where we want to be. We want to continue to grow and have positive growth.”
Among the changes, the biggest bump came from 36 students formerly at Ann Sobrato High School who transferred to adult education. In all, the district corrected the status of 54 students who were originally marked as dropouts from Sobrato and Live Oak High Schools as well as Central Continuation High School.
"I’m greatly pleased that this newly released data confirms what the district has contended all along, that our teachers and administrators are doing a good job and that our students are getting an excellent education," said Board trustee Bob Benevento.
The dropout and graduation data is generated by a relatively new formula called the four-year adjusted cohort, which the CDE instituted three years ago. Each cohort begins with a group of incoming ninth-graders and is subsequently adjusted during the four-year high school career, taking into account students who transfer in or out, emigrate to another country or die during that four-year period. The cohort formula essentially holds school districts accountable for tracking every single student. Any pupil who is classified as a “dropout” will influence the overall cohort graduation/dropout rates.
Adjusting to this new data system also caused issues for the GUSD, which conducted its own investigation after the CDE reported that Gilroy’s dropout rate for the 2008-09 school year was 22 percent for grades 9-12. Administrators found skewed statistics from information incorrectly inputted pertaining to GUSD students who moved out of the state, students who moved out of the country and students who transferred to private schools. This adjusted GUSD's actual 2008-09 dropout rate to 15.5 percent.
The new data sent to Board trustees last night marks a positive outgoing note for Smith, who after a 3.5-year tenure in Morgan Hill departs for a new job in Sacramento in just a few days. The superintendent maintained from the get-go that something was wrong with the CDE’s figures.
"I will be even more pleased when the numbers are officially released by the California Department of Education so that the nay-sayers in our community can be silenced," Benevento said.
Smith will leave for his new gig as Executive Director of the Association of California School Administrators with a token of gratitude from his MHUSD colleagues.
This morning, district staff surprised Smith with a polished sphere of Poppy Jasper (the city’s official “rock,” or, to be technically correct, mineral) with the engraving: “Wes Smith & Family and Poppy Jasper, Two Morgan Hill Treasures, 2009-2013, From your grateful MHUSD Team” – as a token of their appreciation.
“I will always remember you and love you and know that you are doing great things,” said Smith, addressing district staff and Board of Ed. trustees in attendance at the small gathering. “This district is going to do amazing things and I can’t wait to read about it...the passion you have for kids is undeniable.”
At a farewell ceremony held during Wednesday's City Council meeting, the City also gave Smith a departing gift that “we don't give out very often,” according to Councilman Larry Carr - the ceremonial key to the City of Morgan Hill.
Several of Smith's colleagues on the MHUSD School Board and some of his co-workers at the district attended the small event.
Carr spoke about how Smith helped strengthen the partnership between the City and MHUSD during his more than three years as superintendent. Carr noted the passage of the $198 Measure G bond in November 2012 to repair and replace school infrastructure was a “testament” to the community's support of Smith's efforts to improve local education.
“He's been a real partner with the City, and with the community in helping every child succeed,” Carr said.
Morgan Hill Mayor Steve Tate said since he began serving on the Council in the late 1990s, nobody he can recall has received a key to the city.
“For me it means he's always welcome to come back,” Tate said after Wednesday's meeting. “He was a great inspiration to the entire city. He has this can-do attitude to get everybody in line behind him to make Morgan Hill education better.”
Jennifer Gonzalez, a former Sobrato High School student who just graduated, also spoke at the Council meeting to thank Smith for his work at MHUSD.
“You're leaving a great legacy in Morgan Hill of hard work and determination. Your legacy will continue to inspire others,” said Gonzalez, who was named the Chamber of Commerce’s 2013 “Student of the Year.”
Smith said later he was “floored” by the award, which he was not expecting when he was invited to the Council meeting for the farewell ceremony.
Scott Forstner is a general assignment reporter who covers education and other community issues for the Morgan Hill Times. Reach him at (408) 847-7158 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org