According to Superintendent Reginald Eggleston, the past year has been a “year of awareness” for Unified School District 475.
Over the past year, he said, the district has conducted listening sessions, speaking with everyone from students and teachers to members of the surrounding community.
“A great deal of work has taken place this year, in order for us to learn more about our district and find out the direction that we desire to go,” Eggleston said.
In the past, he said, USD 475 schools have achieved Blue Ribbon status and National Title I Status, in addition to being recognized for their achievements by the state of Kansas.
“We want to return and bring that level of excellence back to our school district — and that level of accountability,” he said.
Eggleston said he formed a plan — a framework — for what needed to be done in the district when he came on last year.
Moving forward, according to Eggleston, there are steps that the district needs to take and goals it needs to reach for.
One of these is based in behavioral and social-emotional learning, something that has been stressed in school redesign efforts across the state.
In order to do that within USD 475, the district has set out to reduce chronic absenteeism, holding students accountable for their behavior,
“We’re making discipline or teaching our students how to behave and perform appropriately in the classroom a priority,” Eggleston said. “We know that if we can reduce distractions and disruptions that we can increase the focus on teaching and learning.”
The district, he said, also wants to partner with parents.
“Students need to know that what we value in the schools are the same things that mom and dad value in home,” Eggleston said.
The district also hopes to form partnerships with mental health agencies, he said.
“On several occasions, I’ve been asked the question, what are you going to do about mental health?” Eggleston said. “And I always say that it’s a partnership — it’s something that the community and school should partner in. So we have already reached out to many of the agencies throughout the community and in the local area to begin the partnership. And we started working on the steps we can take in order to support our families in the local area.”
Another goal is to foster engagement.
“This is very important because this has a direct impact on what happens in the schools. Our principals have been given the task of observing all teachers every month for 20 minutes, and providing them with feedback,” he said. “In addition to that, there are teams that have been created at the central office who visit schools each month for 20 minutes and provide feedback to the principal.”
This leads, Eggleston said, to an average of 300 classroom visits by district officials on a monthly basis.
“Each school has a school improvement plan and this is what makes each school different because it’s based on their needs their data, and the students that attend their school,” he said. “This gives them an opportunity to be unique and to meet the needs of their individual students as well as the population.”
Collaborative time plays into this as well, according to Eggleston. When teachers have a chance to collaborate, he said, their performances improve and test scores go up.
“We give teachers an opportunity to share best practices to talk about the strategies that they’re using in the classroom and to be a resource to each other,” Eggleston said.
The district’s third goal is to improve the graduation rate.
By 2025, he said, the district hopes to bring its graduation rate up to 90 percent. To achieve this, the district has put the focus on the seventh grade students of 2020.
“The research tells us again that ninth grade is the hardest year for high school students,” Eggleston said. “If a student has experienced failure — has not done well — it increases the possibility of that individual dropping out of school. We want to reduce that by putting a great deal of emphasis on putting resources in front of our students that will help them be successful.”
The district is focusing in on test scores and curriculum.
The school district has adopted a universal screener and this spring is expected to adopt a reading program which will span across the district’s elementary schools, he said. The district, Eggleston said, is also trying to create a disciplinary program that will span across all schools and unify them under one standard.
Standardization across the district, he said, is key to much of what it hopes to achieve.
The district hopes, he said, to expand its early childhood program this year. It hopes to offer an ACT prep course at Junction City High School, as well, Eggleston said.
USD 475 held a ribbon cutting last semester for its Eighth Grade Magnet program and hopes to see the program expand in the future.
There are roughly 7,000 students in USD 475 spread throughout its 18 schools. Junction City High School offers 14 career pathways at this time and a JROTC program, which Eggleston described as strong. The district’s ACT score composite is 20.3 and the graduation rate is at 86.7 percent at this time. About 52 percent of the students in the district are directly military-affiliated, while another 10 percent have parents who work for the government in some respect.
“In 2019, the senior class earned over $1.35 million in scholarships,” he said. “ And that’s something for us to be proud of.”