Area graduation rates top state average
The 2022 four-year graduation rate across Minnesota was 83.6%.
BRAINERD — Graduation rates are primarily holding steady for Minnesota seniors across the state, but many area schools are celebrating an upward trend.
The Minnesota Department of Education released 2022 four-year graduation rates in April, showing 83.6% of eligible students graduated last year across the state. That number is on par with the past few years, just barely eking out 2021 at 83.3% and coming in just under numbers for 2020 (83.8%) and 2019 (83.7%).
Schools in the lakes area boast higher rates, with many on the rise from 2021.
Leading the pack is Brainerd High School at 95.8% for 2022, up from 93.3% last year.
“It’s truly a village that gets our students there,” Brainerd Superintendent Heidi Hahn said during an interview Thursday, May 11. “... I just think of all the parents, guardians and our amazing staff that just work so hard to support our kids and just make great things happen for them.
“And then kudos to the students, too. That doesn’t happen without them putting their best foot forward and their energy and efforts into striving towards reaching that diploma.”
Staples-Motley High School is right up there as well, with a 2022 rate of 95.5%, up from 93.2% in 2021.
“It’s exciting that we’ve put ourselves in a position to feel that our kids are going to be successful at the next step of their lives,” Staples-Motley Superintendent Shane Tappe said.
Pierz Healy High School graduated 92% of its eligible students, increasing from 90% the year before.
“We have high standards for graduation rates,” Pierz Superintendent George Weber said, noting the district likes to be at or above 90% every year. “... It’s just an area that we focus on. We try to support kids as much as possible in all their classes and just kind of track it, and hopefully we keep up the success rate.”
Rounding out the top schools in the area was Pequot Lakes High School, which saw a rate of 90%, an increase from 89.3% in 2021.
“I’m proud of the students, teachers and families in the Pequot Lakes School District who continue to prepare well-rounded citizens to thrive in whatever pathway they choose after high school — college or career,” Pequot Lakes Superintendent Kurt Stumpf said in an emailed statement.
District officials noted initiatives like credit recovery programs, continuous improvement plans and classroom interventions as contributing to the success of their students, whose high school careers have been anything but normal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seniors graduating this year were freshmen in March 2020, when schools shut down for the last months of the year to prevent the spread of the virus.
“COVID was hard on our students and parents and staff,” BHS Principal Andrea Rusk said. “Through COVID … I think our staff was very focused on keeping our expectations high for meeting course requirements and yet also providing some targeted support for the students that were struggling.”
Officials in both Brainerd and Pierz spoke of credit recovery programs, whether it be after school or in the summer, to help kids make up work where they need to.
“I think that just keeping kids engaged is the main focus,” Weber said, noting much of the credit goes to the teachers, as well as the community that supports the district.
“We try to represent the values of what we think schools should be and those traditional values that schools have held to for decades, and that’s what we strive for in Pierz,” he said. “We really believe we’re still a united school system community, and we can deliver that for all children.”
In Staples-Motley, Tappe pointed to the district’s continuous improvement plan, which he said helps with the decision making process and navigating opportunities for students and their families.
A focus on recruiting and retaining good staff, he said, is the way to continue that success he’s already seeing.
“We have the leadership in place, I believe, that helps us be successful as well,” Tappe said. “We’ve got two great principals. We have a leadership team that certainly holds value to what we want for a student experience. And our goal is to educate and equip and empower all of our students to be successful.”
That’s the goal Tappe said he and school leaders will continue to pursue.
“We don’t want to feel like we’ve arrived,” he said. “We want to keep getting better and continue to keep growing and be successful long term. That’s the key to all of this.”
In Brainerd, Hahn said the district continues work in the special education department, as there are a high number of students qualifying for those services, and leaders are trying to figure out earlier interventions to decrease those numbers.
A focus on career pathways — not just college opportunities — is one method, she said, as a clear goal after high school tends to increase engagement and incentivize students to do well.
And though the numbers are high, district officials aren’t done yet.
“We’re not going to stop our work until we’re at 100%,” Rusk said. “We still need to keep focusing on the students that didn’t make it and also make sure that we keep checking in on those students who are struggling to ensure that they don’t give up and quit.”
Graduation rates from the Minnesota Department of Education are based on a four-year graduation timeline, with some schools boasting even higher rates when looking at a seven-year timeline for continuing education students.
2022 regional graduation rates
Brainerd High School — 95.8%.
Staples-Motley High School — 95.5%.
Pierz Healy High School — 92.6%.
Pequot Lakes High School — 90%.
Little Falls Community High School — 87.9%.
Pillager High School — 87.5%.
Aitkin High School — 86%.
Wadena-Deer Creek High School — 85.2%.
Pine River-Backus High School — 84.3%.
Crosby-Ironton High School — 83.8%.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .