High school’s graduation rate climbs

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home High School’s four-year graduation rate increased by 3.59 percentage points in 2014-2015.

The school graduated 67.23 percent of its four-year cohort, those who were freshmen in the 2011-12 school year. That’s up from 63.64 percent in 2013-14. The statewide graduation rate increased by 2 points to 74 percent.

Those numbers account for the fifth-year program, which until this year required students to move on to college without receiving their diplomas while the School District pays their tuition and books.

“That made me happy,” said Principal Ralph Brown, who is in his first year in Sweet Home. “But when I looked at the kids that we have in GED, we had few.”

The district had just three students earn their GED last year, which means fewer teens are finishing after their senior year.

While Sweet Home showed improvement in the four-year rate, it lagged nine percentage points behind the state’s overall five-year completer rate – those who completed a diploma, GED or other certification, and 10 percentage points behind the state in graduation after five years.

Among those who were in the “five-year cohort,” freshmen in 2010-11, 66.27 percent had earned their diploma by 2014-15, and 72.51 percent had completed a diploma, GED or other certification. In 2013-14, 73.96 percent had completed a diploma, GED or other certification by their fifth year.

Statewide, 76.49 percent of those students had earned a diploma by their fifth year, and 81.59 percent had completed a diploma, GED or other certification.

Sweet Home’s four-year completer rate for 2014-15 was 69.49 percent.

Right now, Sweet Home has 19 students in the GED program, Brown said, although he doesn’t know how many of them will earn their GED yet.

He is unsure where 38 students from 2014-15 went after leaving school, Brown said. They may have dropped out. They may have moved and not enrolled.

“Where did we lose these kids?” he asked.

He said he suspects that some students who went into a sixth year as part of the fifth-year college program may not have been counted, but he is uncertain and looking into it.

The dropout rate was 3.11 percent in 2011-12 and 3.13 percent in 2012-13. It increased to 5.3 percent in 2012-13 and to 6.32 percent in 2014-15.

“These dropout numbers are giving me more cause for worry,” Brown said.

He is finding hope, though, he said. School officials are working with about nine students who didn’t finish last year.

“My hope is if they don’t finish, we’ll have kids continue and complete their diplomas in the fifth year,” Brown said. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not a quick fix, and it takes a lot of work with parents.

Supt. Keith Winslow, who was involved with Brown in interviewing Monday evening candidates for his successor, said that is one of the questions they’re asking: “How successful have you been different places?

“This has to be a major emphasis for our School District the next several years.”

Brown has been in this position before as a first-year principal, with much larger dropout numbers. At McLoughlin High School in Milton-Freewater, as an incoming principal, his school had a 20-percent single-year dropout rate.

Brown and his staff went to work on that number.

“I was a happy, happy dog, when we broke double digits to single digits,” Brown said. Last year, McLoughlin was in the 5-percent range for dropouts.

“We’ve got some things we can do,” Brown said. Among them, staff must convince students to come back in the summer or for another year to finish their diplomas, to help them get past being a “super senior.”

“If the kid needs five years to finish, have them finish,” Brown said. “If you need five, take five. The kid is better off down the road.”

It can be done, he said. He’s seen it and been part of it.

“I’m not Pollyannic, but I’m always optimistic,” Brown said. “If we can fight this thing together, we can get ahead.”