SOUTHERN COLORADO — Despite the COVID-19 pandemic closing schools from mid-March through the end of the academic year, it did not impact graduation or dropout rates across southern Colorado.
For the first time in a decade, Pueblo School District 70 has recorded its highest graduation rate of 92.6 percent in 2020 and the lowest dropout rate of 0.4 percent.
"We are really impressed and excited to announce one of our high schools, Rye High School, had a 100 hundred percent completion rate this last year. That's a first for us and we're hoping to do it district-wide in the next couple of years," said Todd Seip, Public Information Officer, Pueblo School District 70.
The district says there a couple of factors that contributed to the uptick in graduation rates.
"We have a number of concurrent education programs that partner us with local colleges and universities," said Seip. "We have a number of new academies that have formed, our Pueblo West has a new Create Academy that's coming online. County and Rye high school also have a number of career and technical education academies. I think those extra resources really help keep kids focused and it gives them the opportunity to seek some future goals while they're still in high school."
In Pueblo School District 60, the graduation rate eclipsed the overall state mark for the fourth straight year. Additionally, the district's dropout rate continues to decline, with just 1.3 percent of its student body leaving school in 2020.
“We’re always happy when we continue to increase our graduation rate and decrease the dropout rate, and I want to congratulate our district,” said Charlotte Macaluso, Pueblo School District 60 Superintendent. “Affirmations to all of the schools and their staff: Central had a significant increase, and they are to be commended, as well as all schools.
“This is truly a team effort, from teachers to counselors to community advocates. Everybody works hard to support our students.”
Since the pandemic began in March, the district said it quickly adapted to the distance model in order to keep all students academically engaged and the Class of 2020 on track to earn diplomas. But more work is still ahead to meet the needs of the entire student body.
“We still have 17 percent of our students who are not graduating,” said Macaluso. “Recently, we embarked on a ninth-grade success initiative, and I want to commend the staff who are involved in that, because I truly believe that will make a difference in terms of examining the practices we have in place.
“Because for 17 percent of our students, we have a system that’s not working. So we must not lose sight, because we want every one of our students to be successful and lead a life of purpose and impact.”
Individually, Central High School, East High School, and Paragon Learning Center increased their four-year graduation rates from 2019 to 2020. Notably, Central increased its four-year graduation rate by 15.3 percent from 2019 to 2020 and saw its dropout rate fall by 2.3 percent in that same time span.
Along with Central, Paragon and South High School lowered their dropout rates from 2019 to 2020.
New data released by the Colorado Department of Education shows that graduation rates statewide climbed to a record 81.9 percent in 2020, improving 0.8 percentage points. The state's dropout rate hit 1.8 percent. The racial gaps in graduation rates also continued to close as the number of Black, Hispanic, and Asian students finished their education.
"Most high school seniors who were on track to graduate for the class of 2020 had already been in school for seven or more than seven semesters by the time the pandemic hit so they were well on their way to earning what they needed to graduate on time," said Andy Tucker, Director of Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness at the Colorado Department of Education.
In an effort to keep students on track, the department met with educators to find ways to keep students engaged, updated its dropout framework, and allowed school districts to implement the state's new graduation guidelines.
"The graduation guidelines really do provide a different set of pathways for students and really allows students to demonstrate their readiness for college and career based on their own individual needs and own individual interests," said Tucker.
For the last few years, he says there has been a really strong push to develop individualized career and academic plans for every student to help individual their education.
"There have been changes in the way that schools and districts offer services to those students. Very intentional and targeted interventions and really trying to develop more interventional learning opportunities," said Tucker.
With the pandemic expected to affect future high school graduates, Pueblo School District 70 plans to expand its concurrent education and mentorship programs.