SLO County's high school graduation rates continue to improve

Templeton High School's Class of 2012 waits for the commencement ceremony to begin on June 7, 2012.
Templeton High School's Class of 2012 waits for the commencement ceremony to begin on June 7, 2012.

Students in San Luis Obispo County are graduating from high school at a rate higher than their peers statewide, while dropout rates slightly declined last school year over the previous year.

Data released this week by the California Department of Education show that minority students in some of the county’s public school districts also improved their graduation rates — though some minority groups lagged a bit behind their peers.

Overall, 87.6 percent of San Luis Obispo County students who started high school in 2008-09 graduated with their class in 2012. That’s up slightly over the previous year, when 87.3 percent graduated.

In the meantime, the dropout rate fell to 7.7 percent from 8.2 percent over the previous year. The dropout rate is calculated for high school students grades nine through 12, though some students drop out as early as middle school, according to state education officials.

“We’re doing fairly well with still some room for improvement,” said Brad Schultz, assistant superintendent of educational support services for the county Office of Education. He said the countywide goal is to hit a 90 percent graduation rate.

“I think there’s a concerted effort within our county to make sure not only the curriculum is relevant,” he added, “but records are also easier to keep because of new technology, so it’s more difficult for students to fall between the cracks.”

Statewide, 78.5 percent of students who started as freshman graduated in California last year. That’s up 1.4 percentage points from the 2010-11 school year.

“There are great things happening in California’s schools every day, and the upward climb of our graduation rate bears that out,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a news release.

The biggest gains were made among African-American and Hispanic students, Torlakson said, and a smaller group of minority students are dropping out. For African-American students statewide, the graduation rate increased nearly 3 percentage points, to 65.7 percent, and rose 1.8 percentage points for Hispanic students, to 73.2 percent.

Local gains

Most districts in San Luis Obispo County improved their overall graduation rates slightly from the previous year.

The data includes the county’s seven public school districts that offer grades K-12 (the three other districts are comprised of grades K-8).

The Templeton Unified School District has consistently had among the highest graduation rates of the districts countywide, and last year its students graduated at a rate of about 10 percentage points higher than the county average.

The smaller size of the district’s high school — with 875 students in grades 9-12 during the last school year — allows administrators, teachers and counselors to develop relationships with students on a personal level, said Superintendent Joe Koski.

“We have a sophisticated series of support and interventions, and we engage students on a lot of different levels,” he said.

Also, Koski said, about half of high school students are involved in athletics, and the school also boasts a strong band program, agricultural department, and Regional Occupational Program, among other activities.

“We have a lot of options that connect and engage students and keep them involved,” he said.

Schultz said that sports, clubs and academies offered at districts countywide help keep teens in school.

“It’s some of the same things that work in sports — feeling camaraderie, a connection,” Schultz said. “Students feel that they have a purpose in school and are interested in attending.”

Students with attendance issues or those who fall behind in credits may attend a continuation high school, while those with disciplinary problems may go to one of the county’s community schools.

There, tight-knit groups of teachers and principals closely monitor each student’s progress, which helps to keep them on track and reduce drop-out rates, Schultz said.

Andy Stenson, Lucia Mar’s assistant superintendent of curriculum, praised Lopez High School and Adult Education as strong, alternative programs for students that help keep the South County district’s graduation rate holding steady at just under 90 percent.

However, budget cuts over the last several years have greatly reduced the district’s summer school program, making it more difficult for administrators to offer the same number of classes that they could a decade ago.

“I do believe that over time graduation rates will climb again, as the pressures on the budget are lessened,” said Stenson, who would like to see Lucia Mar’s rates rise into the high 90s.

A look at local graduation rates

District Graduation Rate
  2011-12* 2010-11 2009-10
Atascadero Unified 93.6% 92.7% 92.6%
Coast Unified 95.9 92.7 90.5
Lucia Mar Unified 89.9 89.6 89.2
Paso Robles Joint Unified 85.9 87.1 84.2
San Luis Coastal Unified 95.3 95.8 94.7
Shandon Joint Unified 96 90.5 86.2
Templeton Unified 97.1 99 94.6
SLO County 87.6 87.3 85.6
California 78.5 77.1 74.7
*Note: Graduation rates do not include all of the students who graduated in a given year — by federal regulation, the rates include only graduates who earned their diplomas within a specific four-year period of time. Rates do not include students who, for a variety of reasons, took longer than four years to graduate. | Source: California Department of Education