This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
At the start of his senior year, Isaac Chavez found himself frequently sleeping through first period.
Before long, he was sleeping through second period as well, and by October he had effectively stopped going to class at all.
That's when he heard a knock on his door and looked outside to see a fellow student, his school counselor and a police officer assigned to Roy High School.
"I was like, 'If I don't open this door right now, then they're going to come back when my parents are here,' " Chavez said.
The three visitors asked Chavez what was keeping him from attending class. He was told he was missed, and he was invited to start fresh the following Monday with a meeting in the counselors office.
"It totally changed my perspective," Chavez said. "They showed that they cared and that they had an interest in my education."
Chavez wasn't the only student to receive a home visit that year.
As part of Roy's Cone Project, 11 schools in that Weber County city banded together and, with the help of $500,000 from the Legislature and Prosperity 2020 Chairman Alan Hall, worked to end truancy, improve graduation rates and put more students on track for grade-level reading and mathematics.
Now in its second full year, the project has seen some early success.
The graduation rate at Roy High School climbed from 71 percent to 78 percent in 2014, and it is expected to top 80 percent when official 2015 numbers are released, Principal Gina Butters said.
Truancy rates at the 11 schools have dropped from 29 percent to 10 percent.
And 79 percent of third-graders are reading at grade level, up from 73 percent last year.
"There's a camaraderie that has filtered out into the community," Butters said. "I think the community feels like we're developing more of an academic climate in our cone."
In this case, a "cone" refers to a chain of schools within a school district.
In Roy, part of the Weber School District, students attend one of eight elementary schools, which feed into two junior high schools and finally Roy High School.
Hall, a Roy resident, said a closed system of teachers and students provides an opportunity to collaborate and keep children from falling through the cracks.
"A school district may even be too broad," he said, "but that cone concept is where I think you get the traction. You own those kids from pre-kindergarten all the way to high school graduation."
Hall through the Prosperity 2020 education foundation he manages with his wife, Jeanne donated $250,000 to launch the Roy Cone project after persuading lawmakers to provide matching funds.
The money, which translates to roughly $45,000 per school, was used to hire an additional counselor at Roy High, provide transportation for at-home student visits, set up student mentoring and teacher accountability programs, and expand optional full-day kindergarten to all eight elementary schools.
Much of the money has already been spent, Butters said, but her school will retain its additional counselor and student mentoring program. And the district agreed to continue funding full-day kindergarten. "It was just enough," she said of the initial $500,000, "to fill those gaps we needed to fill."
Hall said the early success in Roy is indicative of how the cone model can be successful with a relatively small investment.
Utah has 41 school districts, with more than 100 high school "cones."
But Hall said the state could focus on struggling high schools to make the most of funding. "You don't have to do it in every cone," he said. "Do the lowest performing and put your focus there. That will raise the averages across the whole district."
In addition to cone projects, Prosperity 2020 and Education First released a proposed five-year budget for education on Thursday.
The budgets call for $592 million in new per-pupil and enrollment funding over five years, as well as investments in public preschool and optional full-day kindergarten, school technology and teacher training, and additional high school counselors and educator salaries.
"If you want to see real progress over time, this is strategic and we think it's the most important thing the state can do," said Education First co-Chairman Richard Kendell.