Graduation rates: Some districts saw sharp increase, others a decrease
High school graduation rates typically fluctuate by a percentage point or two each year. But for three area school districts, that rate had a significant change: About a 10 percent drop or increase for each.
Both Staples-Motley and Verndale had an increase - Staples-Motley by 11.4 percent and Verndale by 11.9 percent.
Crosby-Ironton saw a 10.1 percent decrease.
The 2014 data was released late last month by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). The state average is 81.2 percent for 2014, and 79.8 percent in 2013. That's a 1.4 percent increase.
Locally, the reasons for the intense jumps differ at each district.
Superintendent Mark Schmitz credits expanded technology education courses, credit recovery offerings, the Connections High School program, and an emphasis on college and career courses through a partnership with Central Lakes College.
"These efforts aren't new," he said. "They are not overnight things. We've been working on them for years and modifying them based on student needs."
School officials look at the graduation rate closely each year, as well as how many students continue with education after.
"We look at it as a success indicator," Schmitz said.
Based on how the numbers come back each year, the leaders and staff at the school will change and adapt practices accordingly.
Students have been retained through credit recovery offerings, Schmitz said. If they're falling behind on credits to graduate, school staff will work with them to catch up.
The key factor here is that it's with teachers at Staples-Motley, Schmitz said.
"They know the students the best," he said.
For the expanded technology education courses, students who may not excel in the regular classes, may find a niche here.
"The added courses appeal to a broader variety," Schmitz said.
Listening to the community, parents and students in what they want is also important, Schmitz said.
"I'm pleased," Schmitz said of the recently released graduation rates. "That's what we want to see."
But the real question is "can we keep that pattern up?" he said.
School leaders are constantly searching for ways to help students grow, he said.
Staples-Motley graduation rates over the last five years:
As a small school district, even one or two seniors not graduating can have a big impact on the overall rate, said Superintendent Paul Brownlow.
The leadership team evaluates the graduation data to see where strengths and weaknesses are.
"It's a continuous review process," Brownlow said.
The success of the district is in part thanks to a focused effort on the post-graduation plans of seniors.
School career counselors do frequent checks on the number of credits each senior has to keep them on track to graduate. They also work with the student and parents in submitting college applications.
"We make sure no students are lost in the cracks," he said.
The career counselor, brought in last spring, is paid for in part by a grant.
The recently released graduation rates are "very exciting" Brownlow said.
But the school district leaders want it to be 100 percent, so they'll keep working.
"When students leave, we need them to be successful beyond high school," he said.
Verndale graduation rates over the last five years:
A 10.1 percent decrease in the district's graduation rate isn't a full picture of what successes the students have after the final school bell rings, said Superintendent Jamie Skjeveland.
While some students don't graduate on time, that doesn't mean they don't graduate at all, he said.
In fact, staff keep tabs on each student, offering options to get their GED.
That's thanks to the smalltown atmosphere.
"We know the kids by name and their family," he said. "We know every one of these kids. It's rare that someone just leaves and we don't know where they went."
Eight students didn't graduate last May. Four of those students are enrolled in or already had their GED.
The district doesn't have updates on the other four, as they aren't required to inform the school.
A majority of students who leave the halls without a diploma will graduate eventually, Skjeveland said.
He pointed to a few initiatives the district has been doing for two years:
• The 11th and 12th grade Professional Learning Community targets students at-risk and develops a mentoring program.
• The Positive Behavior Intervention System/Support Leadership Team began a "commitment to graduation campaign" where students pledge they will graduate.
• For the third year, the district is offering a recovery program during the summer and school year for students needing additional credit or individualized instruction.
Staff meet monthly with seniors who are in trouble of not graduating.
"At the end of the day, what matters is have those kids graduated and how can we get them to?" Skjeveland said.
Crosby-Ironton graduation rates over the last five years:
How other area high schools compare (Graduation rate percent 2013, 2014):
• Brainerd: 80.4, 81.8
• Aitkin: 89.5, 94.6
• Crosby-Ironton: 92.9, 82.8
• Little Falls: 93.9, 94.9
• Pequot Lakes: 92.1, 97.3
• Pierz: 95.5, 89.3
• Pillager: 90.2, 87.3
• Pine River-Backus: 87.1, 93.1
• Staples-Motley: 75, 86.4
• Verndale: 78.1, 90
• Walker-Hackensack-Akeley: 79.6, 83.7