Grad rates rise in NWI, across state

2012-02-06T19:00:00Z 2012-02-07T17:50:07Z Grad rates rise in NWI, across stateBy Carmen McCollum, (219) 662-5337

Graduation rates are up for most schools in Northwest Indiana, in line with a trend across the state.

The Indiana Department of Education released graduation rates Tuesday, saying this is the fifth straight year rates have improved. Approximately 45 percent of public high schools met or exceeded the 90-percent graduation mark, and 83 percent graduated 80 percent or more of their seniors.

"In today's world, graduating from high school with a meaningful diploma is critical to achieving any measure of success in life. To see so many more high school students reach this essential milestone is inspiring, and I am thankful for the hardworking teachers and leaders in our schools who helped them get there," state school Superintendent Tony Bennett said.

Most school districts credit their credit-recovery programs with their success.

Graduation rates at the small River Forest Junior/Senior High School in Hobart increased by almost 10 percent. Of the 103 seniors, 78 graduated.

River Forest Principal Shayne Snider said a serious focus by staff as well as students was key, especially for at-risk students. He said the district, working in cooperation with Lake Station Schools, put an alternative school in place four years ago to help students who are behind gain the credits they need to graduate.

"We caught the kids who were behind on credits and those who faced discipline that could have led to an expulsion," he said. He noted at least 5 percent of the graduation rate increase came from the work done in the alternative school.

Angela West, principal at 21st Century Charter School in Gary, said all 19 of their seniors graduated and are college-bound, giving the school a 100 percent graduation rate.

All of the schools in Lake County which were on probation -- Calumet High School in the Lake Ridge Community Schools, Hammond High and Morton High in the School City of Hammond, East Chicago Central and Gary Roosevelt Career and Technical Academy -- showed improvements in their graduation rates. However, Roosevelt did not show enough improvement in academics and test scores and was taken over by the state.

Graduation rates at Hammond-based Bishop Noll Institute dropped in 2010-11. According to the state, of 109 students, 85 students graduated, for a 78 percent graduation rate, down from 84.8 percent in 2009-10.

However, BNI Principal Colleen McCoy-Cejka said the percentages for the last two years match the school's retention rate -- the percentage of students who began with the school as freshmen and remained to graduate.

"Some students left BNI and went to other high schools in Indiana or Illinois," she said. "There was a mix-up with some of our students not being reported to the Indiana DOE because they left us and went to an Illinois school, therefore not being reported to the DOE at all."

McCoy-Cejka said of 124 students who started BNI as freshmen, 85 of them graduated.

East Porter County School Corp. Superintendent Rod Gardin and Hebron Superintendent George Letz said there is plenty of pressure to stay at the top. Like all school districts in Porter County, both East Porter and Hebron schools logged high graduation rates. Gardin said the district has a small population of students, and one or two students can make a difference in the numbers.

"If you look at Morgan Township over a three-year period, the graduation percentages have consistently been at 98 percent or 100 percent," Gardin said. "It's not difficult to maintain those levels, because our schools are smaller. We can put programs in place like our alternative school and help students get the credits they need."

Hebron's Letz said one of the problems schools face is that students come and go. "It's probably a bigger concern for large school districts. When we received the stimulus money a couple of years ago, we hired a number of teachers to help us with remediation. That money is gone now, and it's going to be difficult to retain those teachers," he said.

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