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High school graduation rates increase locally and statewide

KELLIHER - When it comes to measurements, smaller school districts have advantages and disadvantages.

Smaller pools of students mean you can more easily garner higher results, but it also means you can more easily garner lower results, as well.

Tim Lutz, superintendent of Kelliher Public School, alluded to that this week when asked about the high school's increasing graduation rates. Kelliher in 2013 reported a graduation rate of 91.7 percent, an increase from 76.5 percent in 2012.

Lutz said the high school, due its size - it had 22 grads in 2013 and 13 in 2012 - a single student can make a huge difference.

"One student (not graduating) can dock us 10 percentage points," he said.

The district is committed to working with each student to help him or her achieve their goals, he said, but when a student moves away and doesn't re-registered in his new city or simply gives up, Kelliher, as the last school of record for that student, earns a "black mark" when it comes to figuring graduation rates.

"We're a small enough school that it's all about relationships," Lutz said, describing a few scenarios in which staff reached out, often repeatedly, to reach students and identify for them tracks and methods to help them earn their degrees.

Statewide climb

Kelliher is among area school districts following a statewide trend of increasing graduation rates.

In February, Minnesota presented the latest figures indicating an increasing four-year graduation rate, from 75.5 percent in 2010 to 79.5 percent in 2013, with smaller gains each year in between.

"We are not only seeing a higher graduation rate for all students, but increases in the number of students graduating in every single (sub)group," said Brenda Cassellius, commissioner of education, in a Feb. 19 press release.

Locally, many districts are following a similar path. TrekNorth High School led all area schools with a four-year graduation rate in 2013 of 97 percent, having graduated 33 of its 34 seniors last year.

"I'm very pleased. Our goal is always to provide 100 percent of our students with what they need in order to meet state standards and TrekNorth graduation requirements, and the closer we get to that, the more pleased we are," said Dan McKeon, TrekNorth's executive director, in an email to the Pioneer.

Of Trek graduates, 22 were white, nine were American Indian, one was Hispanic and one was black.

"Particularly in the area of subgroups, it's heartening to see that our program is reaching all the diverse individuals we serve at Trek," McKeon said.

Other districts boasting grad rates over 90 percent include Fosston (93 percent) and Blackduck (91.7).

Bemidji Area Schools increased its four-year rate from 68.9 percent in 2011 to 75.3 percent in 2012 to 76.6 percent in 2013.

"We are seeing improvement," said Kathy Palm, director of curriculum and administrative services for Bemidji Area Schools.

From 2012 to 2013, the district's graduation rate for American Indian students actually decreased, from 44.1 percent to 37.3 percent, but the five-year rate increased, from 38.6 to 49.2 percent.

In other groups, the Bemidji district made positive gains, increasing the four-year graduation rate for special-education students from 47.1 percent in 2012 to 64.1 percent in 2013.

Likewise, the four-year grad rate for students who received free and reduced lunch increased, from 54.8 percent to 55.2.

"When we look at grad rates, we look at the subgroups as well ... we want to make sure they're all improving," Palm said.

Because it is a centrally located regional center, Bemidji offers a range of alternative programs that can impact such rates. Specialty programs include Lumberjack High School, a traditional-style alternative learning high school; the Alternative Education Center, offering year-round independent study; BYLaW, a special-education program for students with emotional and behavioral disorders; and First City School, which serves youth at the Northwestern Minnesota Juvenile Center. There also is Oshki Manidoo, a residential alcohol and drug treatment program operated in Bemidji by the White Earth Tribal Council.

"Bemidji is unique because we have unique programs here in our city," Palm said.

Those programs can also negatively impact Bemidji's reported grad rates. In fact, in a July letter to Cassellius, Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Jim Hess pointed out that when the First City School rates were subtracted out of Bemidji's rates (those used to calculate 2013 Adequate Yearly Progress), the school district's grad rate jumped from 67.97 to 86.62 percent.

In looking solely at Bemidji High School, BHS in 2013 had a four-year grad rate of 85.8 percent in 2013.

Palm said programs preparing students for life after high school are showing results. One program expected to positively impact those rates is Ramp Up for Readiness, which is designed to get students thinking early about college and the steps they need to take to achieve their post-high school goals.

"That is a nice way to make a nice connection with students early on,' Palm said. "It is guiding them in selecting their career, their college. It's a really nice supportive program and, definitely, that will help."

Bemidji High School is in its first year of the Ramp Up program. Kelliher is now in its second, though Lutz hesitated to yet credit his school's increasing graduation rates to that program.

"Ramp Up is an awesome program and I do think it's part of the overall (improvements) in helping students stay focused, on having long-term goals," he said, "I think we will see that it will have a huge impact."

Ramp Up has been adopted from sixth-grade on up in Kelliher, but Lutz again stressed the program is relatively new. While Lutz said it is certainly positively impacting students by building character, teaching study skills, and helping students develop portfolios and post-high school plans, he also said he believes it is simply too early to observe any impact on graduation rates.

"I think it's a great program and I'm positive and very confident that we'll see those results later on the road," he said.

4-year graduation rates

Statewide 79.5

Bemidji 76.6

TrekNorth 97.1

Voyageurs 60.0

Bagley 84.1

Blackduck 91.7

Cass Lake 42.1

Fosston 93.0

Kelliher 91.7

Laporte 62.5

Nevis 88.9

Red Lake 27.6

Four area districts 'on track' to meet AYP

BEMIDJI - Several area schools have received notices that they are "on track" to meet state requirements in closing achievement gaps.

The state, through its waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements, is requiring districts to close their achievement gaps by 50 percent by 2017, based on their 2011 scores toward annual yearly progress.

Several schools, based on 2013 test scores, have been notified that they are on track to meet the 2017 goal.

Those schools have all met, or in most cases, exceeded their 2013 proficiency targets in both reading and math in all applicable subgroups.

Those schools include:

•Schoolcraft Learning Community.

•TrekNorth Junior & Senior High School.

•Blackduck Public School.

•Fosston Public Schools.


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