Austin chamber offers ISDs snapshot with progress report

Graduation rates have increased in school districts in Cedar Park and Leander, according to the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce’s annual Education Progress Reports for the districts.

Isabel Shelton, director of Education and Talent Alignment for the chamber, said the GACC has partnered with school districts and chambers of commerce for 10 years to produce its Education Progress Reports. This year’s reports, which were released at a luncheon April 27, give business owners, educators, parents and the community a bird’s-eye view of area school districts.

“Our hope is that this year we’ll increase our visibility by making [reports] a little more clear and accessible to families, the business community [and] educators,” she said, noting reports have been streamlined.

The reports cover 11 Central Texas districts, said Drew Scheberle, senior vice president of Federal/State Advocacy and Education/Talent Development. Scheberle said the reports are the largest regional effort in the country to help report on progress at the school district level of items of greatest importance to the business community: whether students are graduating from high school; whether they are prepared for college and careers; and whether they are enrolling at a university, community college or technical school immediately after graduating—known as direct-to-college enrollment.

Examining progress

Reports include student data from the 2012-13 school year and from 2014. Leander ISD uses the report for its marketing materials and to disseminate information to the public and to local chambers, said Veronica Sopher, the district’s assistant superintendent of community and governmental relations.

“It’s an opportunity for us to collaborate and share best practices and provide data that is easily readable across the region,” Sopher said.

The percentages of high school graduates who directly enroll in higher education have remained level since 2009, according to the report. However, the district has improved in closing the achievement gap in graduation rates of economically disadvantaged students and non-economically disadvantaged students, Sopher said. Nineteen percent of LISD students are economically disadvantaged, and graduation rates for low-income students have improved from 73 percent to 91 percent over the past four years, according to the report.

“Statistically speaking, we’ve closed the gap,” she said. “That really speaks to our efforts to continue to raise the bar for all students but accelerate the development of those students who are economically disadvantaged so that they can be caught up with their counterparts.”

In Round Rock ISD the graduation rate has also improved since 2009, increasing from 88 percent to 95 percent in 2013. JoyLynn Occhiuzzi, executive director of community and governmental relations, said the district hired an additional counselor at each high school to provide more services to improve college readiness.

“High schools work to ensure all students have access to college resources with the support of a district college-access coordinator, who works with at-risk and economically disadvantaged students to set up college plans,” she said.

For the 2014-15 school year, Occhiuzzi said the district implemented a policy in which each high school student meets with his or her counselor to discuss progress toward goals.

Mitigating mismatch

More students are prepared for college and career than ever before, Scheberle said, yet not all those students actually enroll. Eighty percent of students who file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, enroll in college, but 40 percent of students in Central Texas are meeting financial aid deadlines, said Gilbert Zavala, vice president of Education and Talent Development.

“We’re working with districts to increase the proportion of timely [financial] aid filers, and we have set a target to get them to 50 percent this year,” he said.

Partnering with C3, the chamber offered 10 scholarships of $1,000 to students participating in its Financial Aid Saturdays program who were able to complete their FAFSA before the March 31 deadline.