SHERIDAN — George Estrada is new to many things this fall.
The 31-year-old California native is new to Sheridan, a new father and embracing his new role as graduation coach at Sheridan High School.
According to Estrada, the idea to move to Sheridan was his wife’s, Lauren Graffin Estrada, who accepted a job as a theater instructor at Sheridan College. The former high school teacher then had to find a job, too.
He did with Sheridan County School District 2.
“It was just a big blessing,” he said. “We plan to be in Sheridan for a long time.”
Estrada started his new job at SHS a week before the start of the 2021-22 school year. He’s already had to take a break from work, as the couple welcomed their first two children, twin sons Sean and Ciaran, into the world Sept. 15 in Billings, Montana.
But that isn’t stopping Estrada from settling into his new job. He said he’s continuing the process of meeting students via Zoom while waiting for his sons, born at 33 weeks, to grow healthy enough to bring home.
Mitch Craft, SCSD2 assistant superintendent for instruction and assessment, said Estrada’s role as graduation coach is somewhat of a unique one, with the district creating the position about eight years ago.
“This (position) was dreamed up at Sheridan High School,” Craft said.
Craft added the position is constructed to help provide potential at-risk students with a support mechanism to help them graduate.
“One of the big concerns of some students is they didn’t feel anyone at the school was there for them,” Craft said. “So, we decided to have someone full time that would be there. It’s something that is more specialized.”
As graduation coach, Estrada works with students, teachers and the school counselors in a collaborative effort.
“George is building relationships with his students,” Craft said. “He’s working one-on-one with kids.”
Estrada said students have different needs. Some need help with homework, others need help setting goals. Or they just need to know someone cares.
“I feel if I can help out with one little thing a day, they’ll get there,” Estrada said. “We work as a team. We individualize every kid’s education. We empower them. … How are you going to graduate?”
“It’s not about judging. We’re not judging about where they are or where they come from,” added SCSD2 Superintendent Scott Stults. “It’s focused on, ‘How do we get to that end goal of graduation?’”
Estrada was hired at a somewhat critical time. The graduation rate at SHS dipped to 80.6% for the class of 2021.
Stults said district officials acknowledge the drop from the district’s more traditional graduation rate that runs in the mid to high 80% — 89.2% for 2018 and 85.5% for 2019 — was an anomaly and a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding he expects it to rebound in 2022.
“Our goal is 100%,” Stults said. “We want every kid to walk across that (graduation) stage. That’s our ultimate goal.”
And Stults said he believes Estrada is the right man for the job in pursuing that goal moving forward.
“When we interviewed George, it was exciting because of the passion and energy in what he thought he could do to make a difference in the lives of our kids,” Stults said. “We’re already seeing the difference with his work at SHS.”