by Mollie Rushmeyer
New and better programming has been named as a factor in the continual increase in high-school graduation rates for the past several years in School District 742, which encompasses nine cities/townships in the greater St. Cloud and St. Joseph areas. The Minnesota Department of Education released information earlier this spring showing the 2016 graduation rate for District 742 was 72.7 percent, compared to 72 percent in 2015 and 70.4 percent in 2013.
Dr. Sylvia Huff of St. Cloud is the District 742 director of research evaluation and assessment. She works closely with the data gathered for the state statistics.
“There is a steady uptick (in graduation rates),” Huff said. “It’s a slight and gradual increase but it’s going up.”
Huff said besides overall graduation numbers, rates were also calculated based on students of color as well as family economics, such as those students receiving free or reduced lunch. Students of color saw an increase in graduation rates across all races and cultural backgrounds. For example, from 2015 to 2016, the African-American/black student graduation percentage went from 58.2 to 68. The Minnesota state average for African-Americans/blacks is 65.1 percent. The Hispanic student graduation rate went from 51.3 to 57.1. The students receiving free or reduced lunch due to limited family income had a graduation rate of 57.9 percent in 2015, and that increased to 62 percent in 2016.
While the numbers may seem small, any increases are steps forward for the district and for the students impacted by the new programming focused on growing each year’s graduating class, said Joni Olson of Milaca, the executive director of student achievement and strategic alignment.
“It’s really gratifying to see the individual successes of each student,” Olson said.
Olson said it’s important to understand the 2016 overall percentage is just that, an overall average percentage reflecting the four-year completion of the Minnesota high-school curriculum for the eight sites served by District 742. Those sites include places like McKinley Alternative Learning Center, St. Cloud Group Home, Riverwood day and residential programs, City Life at Roosevelt, St. Cloud Hospital residential and day programs, and Apollo and Tech high schools.
Olson said the numbers do not reflect those that may drop out and then come back and finish later or just take longer than four years to complete their high-school diplomas.
Individually, Tech was at 84.6 percent and Apollo, 87.7 percent. Both high schools are above the statewide average of 82.2 percent.
Compared to the 2016 graduation rates of two other local districts, District 742 may still appear a little low. Sauk Rapids- Rice District 47, for instance, was 94.5 percent, while Sartell-St. Stephen District 748 had 99.2 percent.
However, Olson said programs like the World’s Best Workforce is ramping up in the St. Cloud area school district to balance the scales for all students and to encourage each student to work toward graduation. The statewide bill passed in 2013 requires all schools to put a plan and practices in place to ensure all children are ready to enter school in kindergarten and work toward early literacy. The bill also aims to close the gap between racial and economic achievement gaps, teach students career and college preparation and make certain students graduate from high school.
District 742 is trying not only to increase its graduation rates but also give students the tools they need after graduation through the Avid elective and a mentoring program, Olson said.
The Avid elective is for those who might be a first-generation college-goer or those who don’t see themselves as college-bound. These students get support and information to navigate the college system. It also helps students with study habits and note-taking to increase the chances of success in college courses. Olson said the mentoring program for early junior-high students can also make a big difference in students going on to choose college later. Through Big Brothers/ Big Sisters volunteers, who are also St. Cloud State University faculty, students can experience all the university has to offer in amenities and careers.
What can’t be avoided in any district is drop-out students or those who are at risk to drop-out for a variety of reasons. Olson said District 742 is no stranger to this problem but said the Equities Services Department is working hard to support and connect with these students, giving them options to return to school or learn alternatively.
“We’re proud of the increases we’re making,” Huff said. “I hope to continue seeing these (numbers) move up as we go forward.”
Rushmeyer grew up in the Brainerd Lakes area then moved to St. Cloud to attend St. Cloud State University, pursuing a degree in community psychology and family dynamics. She now resides in Rice with her husband and their two daughters. Rushmeyer became a freelance reporter/ photographer with the Newsleaders in 2016, but her love of the written word started as a child. When she’s not writing news articles, she blogs, writes flash fiction, short stories and novels. She has been to Europe several times and enjoys travelling, spending time with her family, getting outdoors and reading.