Above, Dr. Frances Gipson awards a scholarship, established in her grandmother’s name, to senior Zeuz Islas. He will graduate next week from Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy and will attend Columbia University in the fall.

By Dr. Frances Gipson
Chief Academic Officer

The majestic strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the familiar graduation march, will signal the start of the next chapter for thousands of high school seniors throughout L.A. Unified, but something will be different for the Class of 2017.

A special honor roll will celebrate seniors with a 3.8 or higher grade-point average. These students will stand out, wearing purple cords to mark their achievements. They are also among a growing number of L.A. Unified seniors who are passing the academically rigorous “A through G” courses required to be considered for admission to the University of California and Cal State University systems – and to earn a high school diploma.

The Class of 2016 was the first that had to complete the A-G curriculum with a passing grade in order to graduate. In September of their senior year, only 54 percent were on track to fulfill the new requirement.  By June, 77 percent of the class graduated – 5 percentage points higher than the Class of 2015 – in spite of the new academic challenges.

It wasn’t magic.

Graduation is the No. 1 priority for Superintendent Michelle King. She holds high expectations for all students: The valedictorians with their stratospheric GPAs, multiple Advanced Placement classes, and, in at least one case, acceptance letters to 19 colleges including several Ivy League universities, as well as for those who need either a little nudge or a great deal of help.  Her goal, our collective goal, is 100 percent graduation.

Some of our seniors are graduating twice this month, simultaneously receiving a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from a community college. In fact, more of our high school and even middle school students now have the opportunity to earn college credits, thanks to new college partnerships and through the L.A. College Promise. Starting with the Class of 2017, all L.A. Unified graduates are guaranteed priority admission and a year of free tuition in the Los Angeles Community College District.

Long before a student begins 12th grade, students know where they stand academically. Starting in middle school, students participate annually in an Individual Graduation Plan with their counselor and parent. In addition, parents or guardians are sent status letters each semester, and help is widely available for those at risk of not graduating on time.

The Division of Instruction tackles these challenges with an all-hands-on-deck approach. A personalized strategy begins with drilling down into the data to determine what each student needs to meet all of the graduation requirements. Face-to-face meetings are held with students who are not on track. Advisors – including 83 designated A-G diploma counselors – provide comprehensive support and multiple pathways that lead to a cap and gown. Every member of the student scholar support system is called upon to engage families, counselors, teachers, classified staff, principals, librarians, community partners and beyond!

Students have opportunities to repeat classes during summer term or during the school day. Some students may choose to attend an educational options school that offers alternative routes to graduation.  Some students take on-line credit recovery courses, attend classes after school or on Saturdays, and make up high school credits though an adult education program or at community college. Finding what works requires guidance, encouragement and constant progress monitoring. Schools and local districts leverage personalization to match pathways and networks of support toward 100 percent graduation.

Today, every academic metric is headed in the right direction. We are strongly optimistic about making even greater progress. Access, equity, and acceleration guide our mindset. We know that it starts with a strong foundation, mastery learning, and opportunities to link our students to college, career, and life plans for L.A. Unified graduates.

When the diplomas are handed out and the tassels are switched from the right side of the cap to the left, the Class of 2017 is expected to surpass last year’s all-time high graduation rate. Let the commencements exercises begin!

Dr. Frances Gipson oversees instructional strategies for more than 600,000 early education to adult education students in L.A. Unified. She has also served as the regional superintendent for Local District East, and as the award-winning principal of El Sereno, International Baccalaureate, Middle School, where together they launched dual-language learning in Spanish and Mandarin.