Meet Union High School, a CHSS Demonstration School  

The Center for High School Success is proud to announce our 2023-24 Demonstration Schools. CHSS Demonstration Schools are chosen for their sustained improvement, consistently high 9th Grade On-Track Rates, and exemplary implementation of the CHSS Roadmap. Additionally, Demonstration Schools receive the recommendation from a CHSS 9th Grade Success Coach.   

Demonstration Schools partner with CHSS to showcase the exemplary 9th Grade Success Work to support deep learning for the current national network of high schools and to recruit new schools and districts to engage in 9th Grade Success Work. 

Meet Union High School in Vancouver, Washington  

Union High School is just across the Columbia River from Portland in the Evergreen School District. As the largest high school in our CHSS Demonstration School portfolio, Union has sustained a 9th Grade On-Track Rate of over 90% across multiple years.  

CHSS 9th Grade Success Coach, Melissa Rysemus, shared her experience working with Union High School saying, “Union High School effectively implements 9th Grade Success in a large school. They intentionally connect systems and structures to provide seamless support to students. They are clear that the way to academic success is through building a school culture of belonging and working relentlessly towards rigorous, cohesive curriculum and this work is done in highly effective teacher teams. Union High School provides ongoing training to staff about the research that supports the 9th Grade Success work, which has created a staff that truly seeks to create a school environment that motivates and honors all learners.” 

She added, “At Union High School, you will notice the strength of their 9th Grade Success Team meetings. Led by an expert teacher and facilitator, each member takes ownership and is committed to building systems and implementing strategies to support students finding academic success and belonging.  The 9th Grade Success Team elevates student voice through empathy interviews and student surveys. They use this feedback to design interventions and improve the overall experience for 9th graders.  If you are lucky enough to spend time with the leadership team, you will immediately notice that the work of 9th Grade Success is not happening in a silo, it is woven throughout the school. The team presents at staff meetings, team members are leaders in their content departments, the work is everywhere.” 

Principal Griffin Peyton shared more about Union High School. 

Tell us a little about your school community. 

Union High School opened in 2007; we are one of the largest high schools in Clark County, as well as SW Washington as whole. This year, we will have close to 2100 students enrolled. Union has a unique campus that is comprised of five outbuildings and resembles more of a college campus. Students are assigned to a home base building that is hosted by their assigned counselor during their four years as Titans. Union has experienced a shift in demographics since the school has opened and we are working to be responsive to our student needs. We have a great combination of curricular and extracurricular offerings for our students and there is a tremendous source of pride in being a Union Titan. There are around 150 staff members at UHS, 100 of which are certificated and 50 of which are classified. Union offers over 20 Advanced Placement courses for our students and last year, 70% of our students who took the AP exams earned a passing score. 

Tell us a little about your school’s history with 9th Grade Success Work?   

We are in year 6 of our FST work; there have been a couple of shifts in both group composition and leadership over those years. The last 2-3 years, however, there has been stability and significant progress. Currently, our Freshman Success Team serves as a model professional learning community in the manner in which they set/achieve goals, use data to monitor progress and implement tiered intervention strategies to meet the needs of students and families. 

What are you most proud of? 

We have moved from 82% to 87% On-Track grad rate, and we have closed the gap for our Hispanic/Latino students. We are very proud of the commitment and effort of our team members. We have seen a rise in teacher leadership and a shift in mindset as a result of their work. 

What has been an obstacle you’ve been able to overcome? 

Breaking out of the silos that are often present in a large, comprehensive school and proving to colleagues that collective efficacy results in growth and care for our kids. 

Finish this sentence. “9th Grade On-Track Work/9th Grade Success Work has been transformational at our school…” 

because it has proven that collective efficacy – or a shared belief in practice – can, indeed, result in growth for our students and support the closing of our achievement gaps. 

How has partnering with CHSS been transformative? 

CHSS provided the foundation (the Roadmap, the structures/supports of highly functioning teams) of which we could launch from; it has been helpful to have them facilitate our growth and provide us with resources to continue to grow. 

Anything else you’d like to share?   

I want to give a huge shoutout to our team – in particular, the leadership of Vicki Wolvert, Dani Jamison, Angella Shepard and Lauren Schroff in their commitment to the success of the team. I would also give shoutouts to Ajai Huja and Melissa Rysemus [CHSS] – they were instrumental in our success and have been outstanding (and patient) thought partners! 

This year, CHSS is partnering with our Demonstration Schools to host Learning Labs, which are designed to be an immersive experience wherein participants have an in-depth learning opportunity to see best practices and strategies from our CHSS Roadmap in action at a Demonstration School. These visits are a great opportunity for high school educators and district leadership to learn about 9th Grade Success work through seeing it in action. Both current CHSS network partners and prospective partners are welcome!  View the dates and register to attend here.