Regularly, the District Leadership team — made up of teachers, staff and administrators from all USD 373 buildings — convenes to discuss instruction, curriculum and more that impacts all Newton schools and students.

Primary focuses range from the Kansas Education Systems Accreditation to Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) reports, but no matter the topic, those in the classroom are at the center of it all.

"When this team gets together, our goal is to think about how we can all support our students to achieve to their highest potential," said assistant superintendent of instructional services Sheila Wendling.

A big part of that, as Wendling reported to the Board of Education at its most recent meeting, is looking at post-secondary success — including graduation rates at Newton High School, success rates and effective rates (calculated by multiplying the other two rates).

Based on five-year averages, the NHS graduation rate sits at 86%, while the success rate comes out to 54% over that same period. The latter is being addressed by the District Leadership Team, which has set a goal to increase the average success rate to 60% by 2023. Success rates are measured by students either earning industry-recognized certificates, post-secondary certificates, post-secondary degrees or remaining enrolled in a post-secondary institution two years after high school graduation.

Striving toward better success rates, the district is focused on individual plans of study for students — allowing them to complete various learning style and career interest surveys, develop goals, complete courses related to interests, participate in job shadows/internships and more. Factoring into that is the Career and Technical Education program offered at NHS.

Data on the CTE program from 2018-2019, which Wendling presented to the BOE, showed there were 633 participants, 59 concentrators, 33 completers and 86 concentrators who graduated from the program last school year.

Given the certification and career exploration offered through the program, board member Angela Becker stated an interest in seeing more students complete pathways — though superintendent Deb Hamm said the lack of completionists is part of what the district encourages.

"I want to see us kind of get those numbers higher so we could get the most out of the opportunities that they have at our school," Becker said.

"We encourage the kids to experiment with different interests, so that sometimes causes them to shift from one pathway to another pathway, which then reduces the number of completors in a pathway," Hamm said.

Administration did state that students could receive certification without being completors in a given CTE pathway.

Striving for success among all students in the district, Wendling also reported on what is being done to meet the needs of at-risk students in USD 373. Strategies in place include mentoring for students in fifth through 12th grade, social workers at each building and implementation of calm rooms.

USD 373's new Opportunity Academy was also highlighted. An alternative school for residents of Youthville, as well as certain NHS students approved through an application process, Wendling reported an 88.36% average daily attendance rate so far this school year.

While the academy has a potential maximum enrollment of 75 students, Wendling noted the district is currently capping it at 50, but the anecdotal evidence strongly supports its mission — with students recording better grades, being able to socialize and admitting they want to come to school.

That mission — to provide the best support for all students in USD 373 — is something the District Leadership Team will continue working to fulfill.