SHERIDAN — Wyoming high school graduation rates inched upward during 2016-17, and four Sheridan County high schools were above the state average in a report released Monday by the Wyoming Department of Education.
The state’s four-year graduation rate increased from 80 to 80.2 percent, the best since 2009-10. A student is considered “on time” if they graduate by Sep. 15 of his or her fourth year.
In Sheridan County School District 2, 86.1 percent (216 of 251) of students graduated in four years or less, a small dip from last year’s 87.1 percent but the district’s second-best number since 2010. At Sheridan High School, 88.2 percent (201 of 228) graduated on time and 65.2 percent (15 of 23) graduated on time from the former Fort Mackenzie School, now known as the John C. Schiffer Collaborative School.
SHS principal Brent Leibach is proud of the school’s overall improvement in recent years but said work can still be done to get the rate above 90 percent. Leibach also credited the district’s Next Level initiatives with improving rates. Leibach pointed to SHS graduation coach Curt Mayer and the school’s success academy, which makes students repeat specific topics of a class they didn’t pass rather than retake the entire course.
SCSD1 saw a decrease as well, from 93.3 percent (56 of 60) in 2016 to 84.3 percent (70 of 83) in 2017. Big Horn High School had an 88.1 percent (37 of 42) graduation rate, while Tongue River High School stood at 84.2 percent (32 of 38). Both schools were over 90 percent last year.
SCSD1 superintendent Marty Kobza said the district’s rate was not as high as he hoped, adding that it was affected by a couple students who enrolled in the school district for a few weeks then dropped out.
In SCSD3, 83.3 percent (10 of 12) students graduated on time. Superintendent Charles Auzqui said the 10 students who started the year as seniors graduated.
Auzqui also reiterated the need to focus on individual educational opportunities for students, which can be easier in a small school where teachers have personal relationships with most students.
The idea of personalized learning came up time and time again, as each administrator said it is one of the keys to high graduation rates.
SCSD2 strives to have its graduation rate above 90 percent in the next few years, according to assistant superintendent Mitch Craft. To do so, the focus has to remain on the actual human beings that walk through the school doors, instead of looking at students as percentages.
Leibach said SHS needs to offer more engaging classes.
“Somewhere along the line, we’re not connecting well enough because we still have some of our students that are dropping out,” Leibach said.
Similarly, Leibach compared a student’s path to success to a puzzle.
“Every piece of the puzzle has a different place, a different shape, and not all of them always fit the way they’re supposed to,” Leibach said.
BHHS principal Ben Smith credited high expectations and the school’s familial atmosphere for high graduation rates. He said the goal is to have 90 to 95 percent of students graduate.
Still, that means not everyone will receive a diploma.
“When one (student) doesn’t make it, it tugs at your heart pretty hard, because you know that it’s going to affect their life in a long-lasting way,” Smith said.
As a state, most of the administrators said Wyoming’s overall educational quality is improving, as evident by the increasing graduation rates the past four years.
Kobza said he noticed an improvement in state education after the Legislature implemented its current funding model several years ago. He is concerned the graduation rates might decrease as a result of education cuts.
“Education is like a huge ship,” Kobza said. “You can get it turned, but it doesn’t turn immediately … It really comes down to a decision on what does the Legislature want and what do the people of Wyoming want. Do they want top schools, really high-performing grade schools, or are they OK with OK?”
With expected budget cuts looming, the answer may arrive soon.