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Walden Magazine // Jan 27, 2016

My Mission Possible: Reclaiming Their Futures

Educator Dr. David Parks provides opportunity to at-risk students

“After I retired from the Army and was hired at Premier High School (PHS), only about 33% of students were graduating. To me, that was unacceptable.

“We are a community in west Phoenix with a lower income and a lot of single parents who haven’t finished high school. Students who are new to our charter school often come from area public schools when their performance is lacking in attendance, academics, or behavior.

“After my third year, I was promoted to assistant principal, and I enrolled at Walden to enhance the knowledge I needed to be successful. I wanted to help these kids find hope and earn their diplomas so they could have a good life. I realized Walden’s mission of social change was what this community was asking for.

“I introduced the Credit Retrieval Program (CRP) to allow students to work a couple extra hours before and after school to complete their missing coursework. The CRP takes less time than night school, but it’s enough for them to be successful.

“I am thankful for the process used at Walden; my professors were inspiring, demanding, and accessible during my studies. That’s informed the way we teach at PHS. First, we teach students to believe in themselves. Second, we provide them with the rigor needed to challenge and motivate them. Last, we provide structure and support to ensure the completion of established goals.

“I teach my students to be accountable for their actions. If they don’t come to class, they have to own that they won’t do well in school. That’s a lesson we heard around the dinner table growing up, but one these kids don’t necessarily hear because their parents are at work. They just need to be given the opportunity, pointed in the right direction, and get a little follow-up. I remind them that I’m not going anywhere. If they’re not coming four days a week to CRP, I’m after them.

“We had a young student in the CRP with a lot of potential. He was straddling the line between living on the streets and being on track to go to college. He came to school drunk one day. We confiscated the liquor, suspended him, and upon his return to school we gave him a lot of attention and guidance. We taught him to believe in himself.

“He did so well on his college placement exams that he was awarded a presidential scholarship to college. He is now studying psychology and plans to work in behavioral health.

“When I started at PHS, I met kids who were the first people in their families to graduate; now, their siblings are graduating. Our graduation rate in 2015 was over 85%. They’re going to community college, technical school, and even law school. If this school wasn’t here, I’m not sure what they’d be doing.”

Dr. David Parks ’11, an EdD graduate, is assistant principal at Premier High School in Phoenix, Arizona, a charter school–where he established a credit retrieval program to help at-risk students graduate. He also manages the English Language Learner program and the career counseling program.