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FWCS grad rates surge to over 90%

Only local district to rise; state takes minimal drop

Indiana’s high school graduation rate saw little change last school year, while Fort Wayne Community Schools reported a marked increase, according to figures released by the Indiana Department of Education on Wednesday.

Statewide, 88.6 percent of students graduated in 2012-13, a slight dip from the 88.7 percent the year before.

“There is some encouraging information,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said.

“While the overall graduation rate is largely the same as it was in 2012, when you dig into the data it becomes clear that more of our students are graduating without a waiver and passing their end-of-course assessments. This is a crucial step in ensuring that our students graduate from high school both college and career ready,” she said in a statement.

Waivers were created to help students who have the knowledge to graduate but do not perform well on standardized tests, or those who have other circumstances that explain why they failed the Graduation Qualifying Exam at least three times.

In Allen County, three of the four public school districts saw slightly lower overall graduation rates, while FWCS jumped from 88.6 percent to 90.7 percent.

In addition, three of the four districts posted graduation rates higher than the state average. East Allen County Schools’ rate dropped to 87 percent from 88.9 percent the previous school year.

Southern Wells Junior-Senior High School had the highest graduation rate of any public high school in northeast Indiana at 98.2 percent, while two private schools – Blackhawk Christian Junior-Senior High School and Lakeland Christian Academy – both had graduation rates of 100 percent.

Schools with the lowest rates in northeast Indiana included Tippecanoe Valley High School in Kosciusko County at 75.8 percent and Central Noble High School at 78.1 percent.

At FWCS, Northrop, Snider and Wayne high schools each saw gains in their graduation rates, with Wayne’s rate growing by nearly 10 percent, from 80.6 percent to 90 percent.

Snider had the highest graduation rate among public high schools in Allen County with a graduation rate of 96.2 percent.

“Our goal is to make sure every student is prepared for life after graduation, whether they are going to college, the military, directly into the workforce or another option,” Superintendent Wendy Robinson said in a statement. “This increase in graduation rates shows that the reforms we have put into place, the training we have provided staff members and the partnerships we have developed with businesses and community organizations have made a difference in the lives of students.”

Those reforms began with the class of 2013, the same group of students who graduated last spring, FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said.

“They were the first class to be in these programs,” Stockman said. “The previous classes got some of that, but these students were getting it all four years.”

The reforms include Project Lead the Way courses designed to help students get a jump-start into careers through hands-on coursework in topics such as engineering, biomedical and global studies.

Stockman said the rising graduation rate is a result of many different components.

“It’s the things we’ve been doing at all of our schools – really focusing on making sure all four years we’re keeping track of kids, knowing where they are, working with them and from the time they start, helping them make good choices to get them to graduation,” Stockman said.

After three years of increased graduation rates, Northwest Allen County Schools dipped slightly to 95.6 percent, compared with 97.2 percent the year before.

That difference could be the result of only one to three students not receiving a diploma, NACS Superintendent Chris Himsel said.

“Overall, we are very proud of our graduation rate,” Himsel said.

In addition, the school is not eligible for a 100 percent graduation rate because it has a number of special-needs students who are ineligible for a diploma, he said.

The formula for calculating graduation rates is complicated, and Himsel said he is not alarmed by the slight drop.

“We continue to help kids succeed and work hard to make sure they graduate and pursue their dreams,” he said.

East Allen County Schools Superintendent Ken Folks said that when he joined the district last July, graduation rates were one of the areas where the district was in need of improvement.

Three East Allen high schools – Leo Junior-Senior High, Woodlan Junior-Senior High and New Haven – saw a decline in graduation rates, which contributed to an overall decline of 1.9 percent, according to state data.

The graduation rate at Heritage Junior-Senior High School increased from 85.1 percent in 2012 to 87.2 percent in 2013.

Individual schools have their own set of challenges, Folks explained.

For example, at Woodlan Junior-Senior High, where the graduating class was a little more than 120 students, having even one or two fewer students graduate can greatly affect graduation rates, he said.

The district’s largest drop was at New Haven High School, where the rate fell by 5.5 percent to an 80.1 percent graduation rate.

Folks said the district has created committees and “war rooms” with boards of data used by teachers and administrators to track individual students.

“Rather than being reactive, we’re being proactive,” he said. “We’re looking at students from their freshman year all the way through to their senior year.”

Although the decline in graduation rates is discouraging, Folks said he expects to have a different conversation next year.

“We’re focusing on individual students, establishing those relationships and making sure long before crunch time – that second semester of classes – that our students are ready to graduate,” he said.

Southwest Allen Superintendent Steve Yager was out of the office and could not be reached for comment.