High school graduation rates nationwide are at an all-time high, with parts of the Florida Panhandle either holding its own or lagging behind.
President Obama spoke last week at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C. where graduation rates jumped to the highest in the country for the 2014-2015 school year.
“Some of the changes we made were hard; and some of them were controversial,” said the President. “We expected more from our teachers and our students. But the hard work that people have put in across the country has started to pay off.”
Florida’s high school graduation rate was 77.9 percent in 2014-15, according to the state Department of Education. The 67 county school districts are crunching the number, and Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas likes what he sees.
“We’ve shown an increase every year for the last eight years,” said Thomas. “But most of those increases have been in the 2-3 percent range. But in the [preliminary] 15-16 year data, we have a six percent jump.”
The official graduation data for the 2015-16 school year is due out in mid-December from the DOE. While Escambia still lags behind neighboring counties, Thomas says they’re proud of the progress in the region’s largest school district. One of the major factors he says, is their Career Academy Initiative.
“By involving students in career academies, getting them involved in something they’re interested in, I think it gave them a reason to hurry up and finish high school,” said Thomas.
In Santa Rosa County, the grad rate was at 83.7 percent last year. Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick says that stems in part from some long-term programs.
“Nine, ten years ago we began programs in the early grades which held high accountability, high-intensive instruction for students, and you’re seeing the fruition of that taking place,” Wyrosdick says.
Another high-octane fuel for the increase is the growth in services for special needs students, who are now joining their classmates on graduation day.
“[In] 2011, students with disabilities graduation rate from about 48.4 percent, and right now it’s about 55.6,” said Wyrosdick. “These are students that in 2010 and 11 would have not gotten a diploma.”
Okaloosa County’s graduation rate for 2014-15 was 82.4 percent. Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson as not available for comment.