The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is on track to end another year with a high school graduation rate above the national average.
The school district’s seven high schools saw, on average, 82 percent of their students graduate on time in 2014, which is 2 percent higher than the national average reported in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Education.
A number of the school district’s high school rates are in the 90-percent range. Kenai Central High School principal Alan Fields said 95.5 percent of his students graduated in 2014, and Homer High School principal Douglas Waclawski said 98 percent of his students received a diploma last year.
“We have great families and great support in our community and teachers and staff,” Waclawski said. “A lot of it is knowing your kids and tracking their needs.”
Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones included the rates from the past five years in the 2016 fiscal year budget packet. The numbers have risen since 2008, with a jump from 72 percent in 2011 to 78 percent in 2012.
The percentage is based on a formulated graduation rate designed by the U.S. Department of Education called the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate, Jones said. The rate is determined by dividing the number of students earning a regular diploma by the number of ninth graders in the school district four years ago, plus the number of students that transferred in, minus those who left the school district since, he said.
Superintendent Sean Dusek said he believes a combination of state legislation and district wide programs is contributing to the increase.
In 2011, Senate Bill 84 targeted funding for technical instruction and career-related training in Alaska high schools. This allowed districts to offer courses that cater to the interests of students, Dusek said.
“These programs help students see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said director of secondary education John O’Brien.
O’Brien also pointed to instrumental intervention strategies implemented in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Soldotna High School principal Todd Syverson said the building has an interventionist team that includes staff, counselors and teachers dedicated to monitoring student progress.
The school had 98 percent of its nearly 200 students graduate last year, and is on track for a similar rate this year, Syverson said.
Library hours have been extended and after school tutoring is now available with transportation provided afterward, Syverson said. The school also has a program, Soldotna Alternative, that offers more individualized instruction for struggling students, he said.
Soldotna Prep, Homer High School, Nikiski High School and Kenai Central High School are some of the other district schools that have alternative courses, Dusek said.
Kenai Central focuses on making sure its students are on track with earning credits starting in their ninth grade year, Fields said. There are also options for credit recovery courses such as summer school, or online classes where students retaking a course can test out of certain sections they already have strong grasp of, he said.
Programs that provide alternative options for students “create a better safety net to provide help to struggling students and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks,” O’Brien said.
“When a student enrolls in ninth grade, the clock starts to tick,” Dusek said. “They have four years.”
If a student does not earn a diploma by that deadline, it counts against the school district, Dusek said. An early graduation still counts as being on time, he said.
Attendance directly correlates to graduation rates, Dusek said. Students that regularly attend class are more academically successful, which is why engaging them is such a focus, he said.
With looming cuts to education funding from the state, the technical and interventionist programs offered in the school district are at risk, Dusek said. It may also lead to larger class sizes threatening individualized instruction from educators, he said.
“We currently staff our secondary schools at a level of 24.5 pupils to 1 teacher and then ‘Programmatic Staffing’ bumps that number by 15 percent,” O’Brien said.
This allows schools to keep core classes at optimal sizes and to ensure that there are adequate elective offerings required for a student’s success, he said.
“Without a doubt in my mind budget cuts will have a negative impact on graduation rates,” O’Brien said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.