Graduation rates rise

At 90.5 percent, Powell district one of top 15 in the state

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More local students are staying in school and earning their diplomas: In the 2017-18 school year, students at Powell High School and the Shoshone Learning Center achieved a graduation rate of 90.5 percent.

“There is no other way to put it — this is phenomenal,”  Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis told the school board last week.

From a low of 80.2 percent in 2013 and 2014, Powell’s graduation rate has increased by nearly 13 percent over the past five years.

“That is an enormous accomplishment,” Curtis said.

The Powell district ranked as one of the top 15 in Wyoming and exceeded the statewide rate of 81.7 by almost 9 percentage points.

“We’re very proud that we have always been above the state average, but we continue to look for better ways to help our students obtain a high school diploma,” said Jim Kuhn, Powell High School principal. “We try not to rest on our laurels.”

Teachers have worked hard to identify the most essential learning outcomes for each class, he said.

“We have worked to better define what the real world will expect students to know when they leave the classroom,” Kuhn said.

With 106 graduates out of 117 seniors, PHS achieved a four-year graduation rate of 90.6. At the Shoshone Learning Center, eight of nine seniors graduated in four years, bringing its rate to 88.9 percent.

Both schools saw gains from the previous school year. At PHS, the four-year graduation rate climbed 4 percent in one year, while the SLC’s rate increased by 15.6 percent from the previous year.

SLC Principal Ginger Sleep said she is extremely pleased with the school’s graduation rates.

“As a whole, we have a small cadre of outstanding, dedicated staff that go above and beyond for each and every student,” Sleep said. “It’s all about individual students, their specific academic and emotional needs, and helping them obtain the coveted prize — a high school diploma.”

Superintendent Curtis said it’s hard work to get where the schools have gotten. In addition to helping each student succeed, school staff must track students who move out of the district. For example, if a student moves to Arizona, they could be counted as a dropout for Powell unless the district provides documentation that the student transferred to an out-of-state school, Curtis said.

If a teen leaves PHS or the SLC to be home-schooled, the Wyoming Department of Education counts that student as a high school dropout, even if they get their GED and qualify for scholarships.

Under new federal guidelines, the graduation rate also doesn’t include students who finish high school in five or six years.

If the data included five-year graduates, “our rate would have been closer to 93 percent,” Curtis said, adding, “For a district this size, that is spectacular.”

Powell is one of the largest districts in the state’s top 15. Most of the districts are small, with fewer than 50 graduates.

With all nine of its seniors graduating, Meeteetse School was one of four districts in the state with a 100 percent graduation rate last year.

When Curtis worked in Meeteetse, he said the graduation rate was 100 percent for seven or eight years.

“And then we were crushed when we lost one kid and our graduation rate fell to 80 percent,” he said.

Principal Kuhn attributed PHS’s rate increase to the dedication of the staff to adapt to how students learn and enhancing their strategies for teaching. He said they spend quite a bit of time every year reviewing what they’re doing and how it is working, then making changes to address what isn’t working.

“I think that our staff supports each other very well across the curriculum for students’ success,” Kuhn said.

“Of course, our students understanding that an education is the great equalizer to success is a component that moves us forward as well,” he added.

At the SLC, with Shannon Blackmore at the helm as the lead teacher, Sleep said the staff systematically responds to student needs through one-on-one support, small group instruction and personalized plans for success.

“Personal growth and learning goals are just as important as a student’s overall academic skills and performance,” Sleep said. “Every student matters.”

She said maintaining that focus — as well as positive relationships and persistence — will continue to be the key to success.

Kuhn said Powell students respect what opportunities are provided for them, and that, from the community to the school board to staff, there are high expectations for student success.

“As long as we maintain this emphasis on education in our community, we will continue to excel,” he said.

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