The 3 percent increase from 2012 meant the district graduated 184 more students in the class of 2013, an increase larger than the past three years combined which totaled 160. Superintendent Martinez credited the closing of Achievement Gaps in minority and sub-group students, which was highlighted by the African American population that rose 9 percent in its graduation rate.
“Our rates are the highest we have ever had, and that really shows just how much more complicated those challenges have become,” Martinez said. “You can see we are closing the achievement gaps. Because we have reached this level, every percentage point we get translates into multiple percentage points in every single sub-group because the population in our district now is a minority majority district.
“There are no more excuses. We are going to be increasing graduation rates and closing achievement gaps. That is the only way the math is going to work.”
In August 2012, 2,500 out of 4,300 students were on track to graduate in June of 2013, a number similar to August 2013, and 3,300 managed to cross the stage. Martinez said the Graduation Initiative, which provides more resources for teachers and students in credit recovery and early intervention, accompanied better data systems, personalized learning and community involvement, which all contributed to the rising numbers.
Reed High School principal Mary Vesco said her school’s 6 percent jump from 2012 could be traced back to the Graduation Initiative and the resources it gave her teachers, allowing them to hold an 83 percent graduation rate. She said her teachers worked tirelessly in keeping up with credit-deficient students to help get them across the stage in 2013.
“I have teachers not only doing the work in the classroom but also doing prep on Saturday and Sunday, so I really think those teachers made the difference with the kids,” Vesco said Tuesday. “And, more importantly, those kids are willing to do it. No question.”
Sparks High School was right behind Reed with a 5 percent boost in its graduation rate, which topped out at 69 percent for 2013. New principal Kevin Carroll said he is focusing on the students who are slightly off track this year in hopes of handing them a diploma in the spring.
“Like Pedro was showing, our numbers are looking about the same as last year at this time,” Carroll said, “So our goal is to target those seniors who are not on track to graduate and really focus on interventions and use the Graduation Initiative to support them and the staff.”
The only high school without a positive increase was Spanish Springs High which dropped two percentage points to 77 percent. Principal Tasha Fuson controls the district’s largest school at about 2,500 students, and she said the size is a challenge but it is not the only hurdle.
“I think what we really need to figure out is how to get out in the community,” Fuson said. “For instance, the Sun Valley community. A lot of our supports that we have are down on campus and we don't have transportation services provided during evening or summer sessions, and that seems to be a barrier for us. That is our biggest challenge we are working on this year.”
Martinez said Spanish Springs High graduated its largest class ever at 421 students. Fuson said freshman classes have begun to reach the 700s and she has a number of fifth-year seniors who will be getting their diplomas even though the graduation-rate numbers do not account for that.
The number of students who graduated with advanced or Honors diplomas rose district wide to 49 percent, a total of 1,615 students. All three Sparks-area principals said focusing on the advanced diplomas will be a major focus in the future, which they said begins by pushing sophomores and juniors to take on tougher classes for better final results.
Because Reed and Spanish Springs each host more than 2,000 students in their halls both Fuson and Vesco said enticing students through Signature Academies will be a big part of the school’s success in the college-and-career-ready initiative set forth by WCSD. Conversely, Sparks High houses about 1,200 students and Carroll said he will have a different approach to bringing out the best in his students.
“We are kind of the opposite of Reed and Spanish Springs. We are a neighborhood school,” Carroll said. “I think our new administration and our teachers will get to know each and every kid and their families to get them on track to graduate.”
Full details about the 2013 graduation rates for WCSD can be found at www.washoe.k12.nv.us.