By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
Of McNary High School’s more than 2,000 students, only 28 or less than 1.4 percent are considered dropouts.
But for principal Erik Jespersen and assistant principal Rhonda Rhodes, that is 28 too many.
Beginning in February, McNary will be the first high school in the Salem-Keizer school district to offer a General Educational Development (GED) program on its campus.
“This is part of a bigger overall mission that we have at McNary, which is to get to zero dropouts,” Jespersen said. “We know our first objective is to get every single student across the stage with a high school diploma but sometimes life circumstances happen that make that challenging so if you’re an 18-year-old kid and you’ve got four credits, we want to provide other opportunities for them. This is after a lot of different interventions along the way. For some kids getting the GED is a good option and if we can get them back in our building and reengage them and give them a little bit of a glimmer of hope, than we’re all about that.”
Currently, there are more kids who are credit deficient in Salem-Keizer schools than seats available at the Downtown Learning Center, the alternative school in Salem with a GED program.
“They literally only have a certain number of desks so what happens is a kid who is credit deficient goes on a waiting list and when you put a kid on a waiting list they stop coming to their home school and disengage from school all together thinking they’ll just get that call and get their GED at that point,” Rhodes said. “Having them disengage in school altogether doesn’t normally turn out very well.”
MHS will pilot the GED program with 20 credit deficient seniors.
“We’ve got kids who out of the 24 credits they need for graduation, have only earned two or four but they’re 18 years old,” Rhodes said. “They don’t want to be here for three more years and we don’t want to send them out into the world with no GED and no high school diploma.”
The students will meet for two 90-minute periods each day to prepare for the GED tests, which cover reading, writing, math, science and social studies. When students have successfully completed online modules, they will be given a GED practice test. If they pass they will be dropped from McNary, which will then notify the learning center that the student is ready for the test.
How long that process takes depends on the student.
“It’s all about their individual skills,” Rhodes said. “One kid might have their skills up to speed in all four core areas in one month and another might take the entire semester.
“We’re really excited. Right now what we see is they get on the waiting list, they disappear and we don’t have a chance to make a difference for them and by keeping them right here in our building and preparing them for the test here, we feel like we’re going to increase their success rate.”
The classes will be led by two current McNary teachers, Patricia Farris and William Bond, who previously taught a similar program for 19 years at a junior college in Florida.
“I’m excited. I’m pumped about it,” Bond said. “We have students all over Keizer that school is not a good fit for them. They have other responsibilities. So it will give others the opportunity to see there is a different way.”