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Percentage of diplomas awarded trending upward

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Area high schools still have a way to go to reach a 100 percent graduation rate, but officials say the pieces are in place to get there.

Last year’s graduation rates — released Wednesday by the state Department of Education — show schools need to improve 10 to 15 percentage points to reach the local Community Education Coalition’s 100 percent goal by 2017.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. increased its graduation rate from 84.4 percent in 2012 to 85.2 in 2013.

That improvement was despite a drop of 0.7 percentage points at Columbus North High School, and a result of a nearly 3 percentage-point gain at Columbus East High School.

East’s graduation rate for 2013 was 86 percent, and North’s was 84.6 percent.

Director of Secondary Education Bill Jensen said he and his team are excited about the improvement at East, and they’re not terribly concerned with the drop at North, which could be the result of natural variation.

“The 3 percent jump at East is something to be excited about,” Jensen said. “But if it were a 3 percent drop at North, I’d be a little more concerned.”

The biggest year-over-year fluctuation came at Hauser High School in Hope, where the graduation rate decreased to 90.8 percent from 95.3 percent in 2012.

Six Hauser students did not graduate last year.

Superintendent Kathy Griffey said because Flat Rock-Hawcreek is a small district — there were 65 seniors in the class in 2013 compared with 822 at BCSC schools — the rate can spike or drop dramatically with just a few students.

Reaching a 100 percent graduation rate is not impossible.

Trinity Lutheran High School in Seymour, which draws some Columbus area students, graduated all 31 seniors last year.

Impact of iGrad program

“I’m optimistic,” BCSC Superintendent John Quick said. “The trend overall is good.”

Quick said a focus on younger students — where he said the district gets the most bang for its buck — will translate to a much higher high school graduation rate in years to come.

The iGrad program, an initiative started in 2012 by the Education Coalition, Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus and Cummins Inc., is one approach being taken to increase the local graduation rate.

The program was funded for three years and concentrates efforts on motivation and remediation. Students are paired with adult graduation coaches and volunteer tutors and mentors. Students are offered credit-recovery options to make up failed or missed classes, tutoring in specific subject areas and mentors to help with goal setting.

As a result of the local iGrad program, the trends show:

More students are enrolling.

Higher grade-point averages.

Additional courses passed.

More students graduating.

Jensen said iGrad isn’t the only key to increasing the graduation rate and post-secondary education attainment, “but it’s a pretty darn good piece of the solution.”

Funding for the program — which pays for the coaches at each high school and middle school in the area — runs out after next school year.

But after seeing the success, officials from area schools said they will not let the program disappear.

The Education Coalition and Ivy Tech are also determined to find more sustainable sources of funding for the program, as well as money to increase the budget next year.

“iGrad is helping because it is one more caring adult that is able to focus on the individual student as to what barriers that student is having,” said Cathy Jackson, iGrad team leader at Columbus North and Hauser high schools. “It focuses support within the school and within the community.”

Of the 44 seniors enrolled in iGrad in 2013, 42 of them graduated. That’s a 95.5 percent graduation rate.

Of that same group of students, 31.8 percent started attending college that fall.

Focus on young students

“We’re seeing increases, and we’re just beginning to fill the pipeline,” CEC Executive Director Kathy Oren said. “We feel like those are some pretty successful numbers.”

She said last year was the first graduation class of seniors in iGrad, and they only had the benefit of the program in their senior year.

“We fully expect that future senior iGrad cohorts will continue to have very high graduation rates and go on to post-secondary programs,” she said.

The first class of seniors made up only 12 percent of all students enrolled in iGrad in spring of 2013.

That’s intentional, Jensen said.

Educators have opted to focus resources on the younger students — especially those struggling with the transition to high school.

Quick said that’s because it’s easier to intervene than ask a student to play catch-up.

“Even if their attitude changes and kids mature a little bit, they’ve dug themselves into such a big hole,” he said.

Jensen said he knows the graduation rate will continue to climb. The delayed effect of the iGrad program will help, as will the better and more sophisticated approaches to teaching.

Other efforts to help students reach graduation in Columbus high schools include:

The implementation of Universal Design for Learning, a teaching method that focuses on individual students and presents information in multiple ways.

Positive Behavior Support System, which enforces good behavior rather than punishment.

Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School, where the curriculum is project-based to keep students engaged.

C4 Columbus Area Career Connection, a program that offers students relevant learning experiences.

“There are a myriad of reasons students don’t graduate, from changing family situations to a lack of interest,” Jensen said. “As we try to increase interest, try to make curriculum and instruction more relevant, we get better. We should see our kids more engaged.”

Griffey said Hauser High School is at an advantage because of its small size.

Teachers can keep students engaged by talking with them about their family and joking with them.

“There is no question that every student is treated as if they are very important,” she said. “Their needs are reviewed and their parents are contacted. Most teachers know all of the kids’ names and know their families and know their brothers and sisters and can ask them individual questions about what’s going on.”

She said the high school also has an intentional program that identifies struggling students and offers work sessions, tutoring and online courses.

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