The Larger Picture Behind Rising Grad Rates

Current Events & News | 02/08/2019

Christy Perry
Superintendent, Salem-Keizer Public Schools

Oregonians received welcome news in January that graduation rates ticked up to 79 percent for the class of 2018 – that’s two points higher than the year before, and nearly seven points higher than the year before that. As a lifelong educator, and as Superintendent of Salem-Keizer School District, I want to share that the rising state average is only one part of a much larger picture of success that Oregon students are benefitting from.

At Salem-Keizer, our graduation rate grew by three percentage points. We focused heavily on individualized supports to help at-risk students. We used Measure 98 funds to hire a Community Resource Specialist (CRS) to engage with our most vulnerable and historically underserved students in our community. By connecting with local churches, youth leadership groups, and similar community networks, our CRS began identifying reasons why students drop off, engaging with parent to understand their perspective on their child’s education, and developing ways to help students advocate for their own needs. For example, a student who needs more time to complete a project can now find sample scripts to help them coordinate with their teacher, reducing the intimidation factor that might otherwise lead to an incomplete assignment.

The results speak for themselves. North Salem High School’s graduation rate went up by 10 percentage points in just one year. What’s more, our Pacific Islander students – historically one of our most academically vulnerable populations – had a 15-point jump in their graduation rates! McKay High School, which was one of the lowest performing schools in the state just 7 years ago, has equally exciting progress. McKay’s rate is up four points from last year, and the school’s graduation mentors – tasked with preventing students from dropping out – achieved a 100 percent success rate ensuring students who were on the cusp of graduating actually made it past the finish line.

These results are driven by the heart and dedication that each of our educators has for supporting their students. It’s matched by the passion of every Oregonian who has voted or advocated for resources like Measure 98. We are proud of the results coming from these funds – from the network our CRS is creating to support students, to investments we’re making in Career-Technical Education (CTE) that are generating our district’s top graduation rate (Salem-Keizer students who take CTE courses graduate at 89 percent!).

We are achieving incredible results together, which is why we need these efforts to continue. We won’t be satisfied with our graduation rates until all of our students leave SKPS prepared for bright futures, but these numbers reinforce that our educators are doing what’s needed to get us there. Lawmakers need to fully fund Measure 98 in 2019 to ensure the opportunities it creates in our district, and across the state, are here for students for years to come.

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