How Casa Grande high schools cut dropout rate in half

Casa Grande, AZ | Submitted by Dr. Steve Bebee

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Situated between Phoenix and Tucson, the Casa Grande Union High School District (CGUHSD) encompasses a whopping 1,250 square miles. With 3,650 students coming from every corner of that area, and four feeder districts, making changes is no small feat.

But the district has made great strides by focusing on three key pillars: improving student engagement, integrating technology and concentrating on workforce development. Over the course of five years, this focus enabled the district to cut their dropout rate in half. School cultures have changed, students have more pride in their schools and more students are graduating on time.

In the district, 65 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch; making significant academic strides doesn’t come easily. But Casa Grande Union has implemented a number of initiatives that help students stay engaged. For one, the district has a 1:1 student computer ratio. Each high schooler gets a laptop that they can use at school and at home to boost learning. Having this technology enables students to continue learning between home and the classroom.

Through positive behavioral interventions, educators and students can work together to create expectations and improve their culture. A special block period is helping students to engage with one teacher. This small group class allows teachers to monitor grades, help with remediation, and show that a caring adult is available. Research has shown that when high schoolers know an adult cares, their success rates goes up substantially.

For students who find themselves far behind on credits, CGUHSD engaged with an online platform for learning. Students who need to earn credits quickly can progress through classes at their own pace. They work in a lab staffed by teachers who can support growth and act as tutors, as needed. The independent work means students can move quickly through their courses and get back on track for graduation. The program has kept hundreds of youth from giving up, at which point many would have otherwise dropped out.

With teachers, the district established Professional Learning Communities. Teachers meet together once per week to discuss what students need to learn and to strategize and troubleshoot. These content groups can collaborate to ensure student success. Having the educators work together regularly creates stronger teams and is helping to alleviate teacher turnover.

The district’s dropout recovery program has re-enrolled nearly 40 students in the past six months alone. In a state where 13 percent of youth 16-24 are neither working nor in school, keeping more students engaged in school is critical. The Arizona Education Progress Meter goal to reduce this to 7 percent by 2030 won’t be possible without it. Through varied programming, which includes fine arts, JROTC and CTE, CGUHSD is preparing for students for the thousands of jobs that are coming to the region.

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