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CASPER, Wyo. — Things are changing at Roosevelt High School, and the hope is that the effort will turn around years of poor performance.

Parking spots reserved for the principal have been replaced with spots for student leaders.

Past graduation photos will be taken off the wall to make room for real-time indicators of success — test scores, growth and other student data.

In the past, disappointing test scores and a dim graduation rate — 28 percent in 2009 — were reviewed with a grain of salt.

Roosevelt has been a dumping ground for would-be high school dropouts from Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools.

Students would enroll weeks before state testing and leave soon after, leaving behind poor, uninvested scores.

Numbers didn't reflect the hard work and success of students who took school seriously.

When new principal Shawna Trujillo took over, the first thing she did was take a long, hard look at the numbers.

“The reality is that our kids are seriously underperforming,” Trujillo said.

Help from the feds

Trujillo was hired as principal during the summer, after Mike Pickett's retirement.

She said she was charged with improving the school and took advantage of a School Improvement Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The incentive targeted the 5 percent of the country's lowest-performing schools and offered money to adopt significant reforms that include replacing principals and teachers or closing schools.

The grant will pay for a math tutor, wellness coordinator and instructional facilitator. The wellness coordinator will boost the school's “Spark” program, which pairs intense, targeted exercise with focused reading instruction.

The school has partnered with the HOPE Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works with school staff to improve leadership. Outside consultants have a bad rap in Natrona County, but Trujillo said she needed the help.

Teachers always did good work, Trujillo said, but it was done in isolation. Teachers now work together in professional learning communities targeting math, literacy and community.

Roosevelt staff have always connected with students, but the connection with parents was lacking, Trujillo said.

Early results

Attendance policies were tightened up. Students used to be allowed 10 absences. Now, if they miss more than five periods, their credit is held until courses are completed with fewer absences in the following quarter.

The result: 187 fewer tardies than last year and only 29 truancies compared with 224 during the first term in 2009-10. The first quarter honor roll grew by 14 students.

Attendance is taken every hour and phone calls are made home, said teacher Rick Zimmer.

“It's hard to be a number here when every teacher sees every kid, every hour,” Zimmer said.

As for Roosevelt's history as a dumping ground for would-be high school dropouts from Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools — not any more, Trujillo said.

Roosevelt used to add 30 to 40 new students each quarter. This year, they required incoming students to take an additional “personal and social responsibility” class. Students finish a semester's worth of work in nine weeks.

Only 11 were added for the second quarter.

“We need kids who are ready to play,” Trujillo said. “They need to want it.”

Higher goals

Students come to Roosevelt for many reasons, such as more a intimate atmosphere and dedicated teachers

But many came because they were failing elsewhere and Roosevelt kept them in school. Those students had years of baggage, enrolling in Roosevelt four or five grade levels behind, Zimmer said.

The school plans to move into the new high school campus in a few years, side-by-side with high-end courses taught at the Center for Advanced Professional Studies. Judging by the numbers, Roosevelt students aren't prepared to take those classes, Trujillo said.

An additional class period was added to the end of the day. Two courses are offered in that period now, and nine will be offered in January. The extra time is for remediation and advanced work, with classes such as anatomy and physiology and a senior English class called “Shakespeare Lives.”

“A lot of our kids come to us with major gaps in their education and we can't just focus on catching them up,” Zimmer said.

The focus used to be on surviving, Zimmer said, now it's on thriving. College and scholarship information sessions have been planned.

During fall testing, students were pushed to do their best to set a baseline to measure growth. Results will be displayed in the main hallway, a visible reminder of where they started and where they need to go.

Contact Jackie Borchardt at jackie.borchardt@trib.com or 307-266-0593.

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