The academic turnaround at Foster High School in Tukwila shows what’s possible when districts and teachers keep a laserlike focus on the success of all students.
FOSTER High School’s turnaround in academic achievement and faculty morale is incredible. Within a few years, student test scores have shown a dramatic improvement, particularly in math. The Tukwila school’s 2015 graduation rate shot up by 15 percent in just one year.
Leadership matters and schools must assess every child’s needs before real learning can happen. The heartening aspect here is that Foster High School cultivated a community of learning and support on its own without a legislative mandate.
Nearly 75 percent of Foster students are immigrants or refugees. Many of them struggle with displacement and poverty. Instead of giving up on these vulnerable youths, a recent Seattle Times news story profiled how the school has adopted a culture where expectations are high and challenges outside the classroom are not excuses for poor performance.
A few years ago, administrators and teachers banded together and made a conscious choice to confront barriers to their students’ learning. They adapted curricula for students still learning English. The Tukwila School District helped by prioritizing funding for social workers in every school and counselors to address the high rates of homeless and emotionally traumatized students. (Many of Foster’s students languished in refugee camps or fled extreme circumstances before resettling in the U.S.)
Thanks also to some one-time federal Race to the Top money, the district created a system for identifying at-risk kids and hired graduation specialists to monitor students’ progress.
Strong leadership within the district, from its board to Superintendent Nancy Coogan and Foster High School Principal Pat Larson, has clearly invigorated the teaching ranks.
State lawmakers should take note of this success story — made possible, in part, by local levy support — approved by voters but up for renewal next month. Coogan says the state’s student-spending formula is not fair to every district, especially high-poverty ones like Tukwila trying to educate mostly disadvantaged students.
Foster’s comeback is not just about throwing money at a problem. It’s an example of how critical leadership is to empowering teachers and improving student outcomes.”
But Foster’s comeback is not just about throwing money at a problem. It’s an example of how critical leadership is to empowering teachers and improving student outcomes. Administrators also need maximum flexibility to allocate limited funds toward meeting the needs of every child.
As the education community salutes Foster’s inspiring transformation, other schools should watch and learn.