In a state with high school graduation rates among the lowest in the country, Madras High School stands out, and not in a good way. Less than 60 percent of Madras High School seniors graduated on time in the 2014-15 school year, compared to a statewide average of 73.8 percent. Nationwide that year, some 83.2 percent of students graduated on time, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Yet there’s good news from the school district. New leadership at the high school and an accompanying new effort to make improvements are beginning to pay off.

Two former Bend High School principals, Mark Neffendorf and H.D. Weddel, have joined forces again in Madras, and their efforts, combined with those of the rest of the high school staff, appear to be making a difference.

They’re concentrating on making sure that freshmen finish their first year in high school with a quarter of the credits they’ll need to graduate. To do that, they’re working to ensure that freshmen are comfortable at the high school and invested in their educations. There’s plenty of evidence, the two men note, that successfully completing a quarter of graduation requirements by the end of freshman year is a strong predictor of on-time graduation.

The job isn’t easy. Madras High has a high poverty rate and above average absenteeism.

Turning the school around will likely be difficult. Its problems are not new, and efforts to improve the situation have had mixed results.

That said, Neffendorf, Weddel, the Madras High faculty and — more important — students do seem to be making progress. That’s good news, but the real proof will come when the district can sustain it over time.

18196233