Most local schools see graduation rates rise

SALISBURY — Many more students at North Rowan and Henderson Independent high schools are graduating on time this year, according to state data.

They are the most improved Rowan County public schools in 2012-13, with West Rowan taking the honor of the highest four-year graduation rate.

The four-year graduation rate in the Rowan-Salisbury School System was 82.9 percent, up from 81.1 percent last year, according to figures released earlier this month by the N.C. Department of Instruction.

Kannapolis City School System’s four-year graduation rate also increased to 84.9 percent from last year’s 82.8 percent.

The rates are measured as the percentage of students in a cohort - in this case, those who entered ninth grade in 2009-10 - who graduated within four years.

West Rowan High School now has the highest graduation rate in the county, at 89.8 percent compared to 85.1 percent last year.

The high school that previously held the top spot, East Rowan, dropped to 85.1 percent from 90.4 last year. South Rowan High School’s graduation rate also decreased to 82.6 percent this year from 87.1 percent the year before.

Rates increased at Carson, from 84.5 percent to 88.9 percent, and Salisbury, from 73.6 percent to 75 percent (still the lowest rate among traditional schools).

Henderson Independent High School jumped from 27.4 percent to 45.2 percent. The alternative school has the lowest graduation rate in the county, but Principal Chris Vecchione thinks that nearly doubling the rate in one year is a good sign.

“I think it’s been at least five years since the numbers have been that high,” Vecchione said. “I’m not saying 45 percent is good enough, not at all. But there have been huge gains in this area of keeping kids in school.”

Of the 19 seniors who could have graduated from Henderson this year, 18 of them received diplomas, he said.

“One of the things we’re pushing in the last couple years is that it’s all about relationships,” Vecchione said. “We’re really focusing on each student having some meaningful relationship with an adult in the school.”

He said the faculty and staff at the school do everything they can to help students and keep them from dropping out. They make home visits and even work visits, for students who are working on weekdays at times when they should be in school.

The school also has started keeping close communication with parents, he said, letting them know how their children are doing in school and what they will need to do to graduate.

“I think next year, the numbers will improve even more,” Vecchione said.

The graduation rate for Rowan County Early College stayed above 95 percent, at which point the state does not report specific percentages.

Of the traditional high schools, North Rowan made the largest leap in its graduation rate, up to 83.1 percent from 72.4 percent last year.

“I knew it was going to improve this year, but I was almost shocked by the enormous jump we had,” said Principal Darrell McDowell. “It’s wonderful.”

He said the graduation rate has gone up 20 points since he arrived at North Rowan in 2009.

There are a variety of reasons for the improvement, he said, and a big one is a change in the school’s culture.

“We began to work with teachers and work with kids in ways that were more positive,” McDowell said.

That includes celebrating small victories, raising academic standards, taking advantage of technology and hiring faculty and staff who could carry on the momentum.

The school also eliminated some negative situations by improving discipline, McDowell said. He said disruptions and in-school suspensions have both gone down at the same time as graduation rates have gone up. The school’s athletic teams also won five state championships recently.

“We’ve got a lot of identity now and a lot of pride,” he said. “People want to wear green.”

Systemwide, 79.8 percent of males students and 86 percent of female students graduated in four years or fewer, compared to 77 percent of males and 85.5 percent of females last year.

The graduation rate of black students improved to 78.2 percent from 72.3 percent over the past year. Those identifying with two or more races also graduated at a higher rate - up to 92.7 percent from 82.4 percent.

Graduation rates decreased for Hispanic students, from 74.8 percent to 71.5 percent, and Asian students, from 93.3 percent to 87 percent.

The graduation rate for white students increased slightly to 85.4 percent from 84.2 percent last year.

Among economically disadvantaged students, 76.3 percent graduated on time compared to 75 percent last year. The graduation rate for students with disabilities was 65.5 percent this year, a substantial increase from 58.3 percent. Students with limited English proficiency had a lower graduation rate this year, down to 48.6 percent from 53.6 percent.

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Kevin Garay, principal of A.L. Brown High School, said the improvement in the Kannapolis system’s four-year graduation rate has been a “comprehensive effort.”

“We continue to strive toward having a strong culture focused on career or college readiness,” Garay said. “When you do that, a high school diploma becomes an expectation - not a hope or a dream, but an expectation. We’ve been successful in changing that.”

Most of the increase was among male students at A.L. Brown, the system’s only high school. This year, 84.4 percent of males graduated in four years or fewer, compared to 80.1 percent last year.

The graduation rate for females stayed relatively steady at 85.5 percent, a slight decrease from last year’s 85.9 percent.

The graduation rate of black students decreased this year to 86.7 percent from 89.5 percent last year.

Graduation rates rose for Hispanic students, to 81.3 percent from 78 percent, and those identifying as two or more races, to 91.7 percent from 69.2 percent. There was no data reported on Asian students because the population was too small.

White students graduated at a higher rate this year - 84.1 percent compared to 80.4 percent last year.

The graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students stayed the same at 83.2 percent. Students with disabilities graduated on time at a lower rate - 76.9 percent compared to 78.6 percent last year. The graduation rate also decreased for students with limited English proficiency, at 58.8 percent from 64.3 percent.

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.



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