State numbers

Oregon’s 2017-18 graduation rate was 78.68 percent, 2 percentage points over the previous year — marking the fifth straight year it has gone up but still almost 6 points off the most recently reported national average.

2016-17 averages

• U.S.: 84.6 percent

• Oregon: 76.7 percent

2017-18 averages

• U.S.: Not yet reported

• Oregon: 78.68 percent

Oregon breakdown by group (2017-18):

• Asian: 90.6 percent

• Latino: 74.6 percent

• Black: 68 percent

• Homeless: 54.1 percent

• Career technical education: 88.1 percent

Sources: Oregon Education Department, The Associated Press

All of Central Oregon’s largest high schools saw graduation rates rise last school year, and nearly all are above the state average, according to Oregon Department of Education data.

At Bend-La Pine Schools, the region’s largest district with 18,000 students, the graduation rate was 81.9 percent, a 3.1 percent bump. While some graduation rates stayed steady — like those at Bend and Summit high schools, which had modest gains of 90.98 percent and 91.63 percent of students graduating, respectively — other schools in the district saw big jumps. La Pine High School’s graduation rate rose 7.7 percent to a 77.14 percent graduation rate, while Marshall jumped 11.3 percent to a 44.6 percent rate. The 2017-18 year was Marshall’s last as an alternative high school; it is now a STEM-focused magnet school.

A major point of pride for Bend-La Pine is the growing success of its Latino students — the group’s graduation rate was 67.22 percent, a 10.3 percent jump.

In an email, Bend-La Pine Superintendent Shay ­Mikalson credited his district’s staffers and “their commitment to building positive relationships with students” for the rise in graduation rates, particularly for students of underserved races or ethnicities.

“This increase in graduation rate did not happen by chance,” he said. “We have put systems and people in place to try to keep all students on a track to graduation. I am proud today to see these efforts paying off in increased graduate rates across the board.”

Latino students also found success at Crook County High School, where their graduation rate was 95.83 percent, rising 10.1 percent from last year. The district as a whole had a graduation rate of 92.44 percent in 2017-18 — a slight bump over the previous year.

Crook County School District Superintendent Sara Johnson credits the success of her district’s Latino population with an increased support for English language-learning students over the past few years, as well as an individualized focus on each student in the district that helped raise graduation numbers overall.

“We use the practice of identifying every student and figuring out what they need, keeping our freshmen on track,” she said. “We do that K through 12, and it pays off in grade 12.”

Culver School District saw major spikes in both its overall graduation rate and for Latino students in the largely rural district, jumping to 95.12 percent and 93.3 percent, respectively. Those are 11.1 percent and 13.3 percent improvements from the 2016-17 school year.

Although Culver School District Superintendent Stefanie Garber said the big percentage boost in graduation rates might be due to Culver’s small population — there were only 41 seniors in the class of 2018, according to the Department of Education — a new, motivated regime at Culver High that year, which included a new principal, vice principal and counselor, helped more students earn diplomas with their “new focus and new energy,” she said.

Before the school year began, the new administrators worked to identify at-risk students and create a support network for them, Garber wrote in an email.

“It is a team effort to get those graduates across the stage and I applaud everyone involved,” she said.

No high school in Central Oregon saw its graduation rates rise faster than Madras High School, where 12.3 percent more students graduated in 2018 than the year before, resulting in a 90.73 percent graduation rate. The school gained lots of ground among its Native American students — the school’s region includes the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs — of whom 80.95 percent graduated last school year. Just two years ago, that number was only 38.81 percent.

H.D. Weddel, co-principal at Madras High, said a major factor in the school’s turnaround was building a “culture of success,” in which the importance of graduation is heavily emphasized and student-teacher relationships are strong.

“We do have some things that are more difficult out here — distance is one. We’re probably the school district with the largest amount of area. Poverty is pretty high out here,” he said. “(But) our kids are as important as anybody else, and the zip code shouldn’t determine the level of success.”

He added that the school’s addition of career and technical education programs and encouraging students to participate in after-school activities helped keep students engaged.

“Half of our population, in the fall alone, are out for an activity,” he said. “That creates ownership — that creates … a culture that kids want to be here, own this school, love this school, be proud of being from Madras.”

Sisters High School had a slightly larger graduation rate in 2017-18, with 89.29 percent of students earning diplomas, up 2.75 percent from the year prior. Ridgeview High School had a small bump, with 88.08 percent of students graduating, 3.33 percent more than in 2016-17. Redmond High School held steady, rising 0.7 percent to a 75.4 percent graduation rate — making it one of only two high schools in the region to be below the statewide average of 78.68 percent, the other being La Pine.

Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education, said Gov. Kate Brown and his department were “pretty excited” about the state’s slight graduation rate bump of about 2 percent. In regard to Central Oregon schools’ success, he said the region has been quick to adopt programs endorsed by Brown, including career and technical education, or CTE, classes.

“Those (CTE) programs have been embraced in Central Oregon, often between strong partnerships with local businesses,” he said. “Having a strong focus not only on what it takes to graduate, but also keeping it engaging to students, that’s what really matters.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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