As we draw closer to the end of the first semester, Ottawa High School is starting to gear up for the next. During the course of the next nine days, our students will be finishing up their classes, taking finals and tying together the loose ends of the past 18 weeks. Although it seems months away, graduation is right around the corner for the class of 2013. Of course, the statistics involved with graduation from our school have become an important aspect of our communication with our constituents. Therefore, I thought I would share some of the trends we now are observing and what it means to the class of 2013.

We now have 165 students enrolled in the class of 2013, if we include OHS, Ottawa Learning Center and Ottawa Virtual. There is nothing shocking about this number, as it seems very normal in the periphery. However, if we also understood that in the four years the class of 2013 has spent working through OHS, a total of 262 different students have been a part of this class, that shock now begins to grow. Thatís nearly 100 students who no longer are enrolled in Ottawa High. Even more shocking are the numbers of students transferring in or out of OHS. During the four-year cohort of this particular class, there have been 249 total moves in or out of the high school. Of those currently enrolled in the class of 2013, 43 of those students transferred into our school and did not start in our school district, showing us that 25 percent of our current graduating class did not start their time at OHS. Furthermore, another 48 students who have transferred into OHS have transferred out again before finishing their road to graduation. These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg.

What does it mean? OHS plays host to a very transient population. This has been a topic at the forefront of conversation since I have taken over as principal as I try to help our community to understand we are no longer teaching students who start and finish in the Ottawa school district as a rule. Our jobs have become exponentially more challenging as we know the difficulties of dealing with students who experience relocation at very non-standard times. These pupils need support in learning about processes, setting goals, identifying gaps in academic areas and developing a positive self-view that enables them to be resilient in the face of the difficulties posed by relocation.

We also know that OHS (although the least affected in the school district) has a large number of students receiving free or reduced lunches, totaling nearly 50 percent of our student population. These numbers help us to understand how the forces of poverty work against us as we try to educate the youth of our community. A number of studies have documented the correlation between students of low socioeconomic status and their lack of success in schools. Because of the numbers in our school and the total district numbers reaching the mid-60 percentile in several of our elementary schools, the Ottawa school district understands this is a district-wide issue, and we are continuing to build community support in an effort to help these families.

As you might have figured by now, I plan on turning this into something very positive about our school district and specifically about OHS. We certainly have a very transient population on top of an economically challenged group of students. Our district, high school and staff understand these are severe limiting factors on our schools. And yet if you look at our numbers for graduation, we still have the possibility to make great gains again this year. If every one of our seniors graduates, our overall rate would increase from about 80 percent last year to a possible 88 percent. Last year, our school was determined to be a building of excellence in both reading and math building-wide. During the past ACT weekend at OHS, we had 41 students take the exam with an average composite score of 22.8 (more than a full point higher than the state average).

The point is that even with the hurdles and roadblocks, our staff and students are still making extensive gains. The staff at OHS is now undergoing a number of different conversations to determine exactly how we will make changes to meet the ever-shifting needs of our student body. However, until we determine what those next steps will be, we will continue to work diligently to provide the best possible instruction for our students and to improve upon the assessing benchmarks determining successful schools, including graduation rates, assessment scores and ACT scores.

Dr. Ryan Cobbs is principal at Ottawa High School. Email him at cobbsr@usd290.org or call (785) 229-8020.