Oxford High School: An Exception

Special Education Report

Oxford High School is a standout on Alabama’s map of remediation rates. It has low rates for both two-year (27.4%) and four-year (9.2%) college students. Its combined remediation rate is 16.8%, about half that of the state’s overall rate of 32.1%. And the school accomplishes this with nearly one in two students eligible for free or reduced-price meals, a measure of lower family incomes.

Oxford High, in Calhoun County’s Oxford City Schools system , saw 149 of its 275 graduates in 2014 enroll in Alabama public colleges; 87 enrolled in four-year colleges and 62 enrolled in two-year colleges.

When asked what OHS is doing to prepare college-going students for college, Principal Chris Cox gives credit to the students, parents, and teachers.

The school uses data to identify struggling students in reading or math while students are still enrolled and teachers can give individual help. Cox says this is a key part of getting students prepared for what comes after high school.

Cox also says there is a culture of high expectations for all students, regardless of income level, and a community commitment to ensuring Oxford schools have what they need to prepare students for success.

“Our community invests so much in our school. Oxford City Schools is the most important thing in our community, from the mayor down to community members,” Cox said.

Though not reflected in these remediation rates, Cox believes a new academic advising program for eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh graders will build upon the success OHS students are already experiencing.

Beginning in the spring of 2014, students in those grades were required to meet with teachers from eight OHS academies to determine which path best leads students toward their chosen field of interest.

Many of the academies prepare students for college-level coursework while others prepare students for technical careers to allow for employment immediately upon graduation.

The vast majority of parents attend this meeting with their child, but if parents aren’t able to attend, students still meet with the team of teachers.

After meeting with teachers, each student works with a counselor to design a four-year plan for success. The plan is reviewed yearly and can be adjusted if needed.

“To meet with 1300 students, we had four counselors that met with 300 students a piece in a period of about six to eight days,” Cox said. Substitute teachers were hired to cover those teachers’ classrooms so teachers, parents and students could meet one-on-one.

“Not only are we placing students in the right academy, but we’re placing them in the right courses.”

When students are in the right courses, performance goes up across the school, he said.

Cox is pleased to know that remediation is not an obstacle for most college-bound OHS graduates. “It’s just exciting that we as educators are able to be a part of seeing our students be successful. We’re called to be educators. The rewards and the dividends come from student success. That’s what we do this for.”

Today’s Special Report is the first of a series, Numbers That Matter, on Alabama education. The project is a partnership between BirminghamWatch and Alabama School Connection. Trisha Powell Crain is reporting. Read about her here.