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Local student graduation rate above state average

Pine River-Backus and Pequot Lakes school districts have come out ahead of the state average graduation rates yet again. The Minnesota state average graduation rate stands at 82.8 percent for the 2015-16 school year, according to a state report c...

Pine River-Backus and Pequot Lakes school districts have come out ahead of the state average graduation rates yet again.

The Minnesota state average graduation rate stands at 82.8 percent for the 2015-16 school year, according to a state report card by the Department of Education. By comparison, Pine River-Backus lands at 92.9 percent and Pequot Lakes at 91.6 percent.

The higher graduation rate at Pine River-Backus is in spite of some factors that traditionally result in lower rates in other schools, one being inclusion of an alternative learning center (ALC) program, and the other being a significantly higher free and reduced lunch rate.

Being higher than state average, however, is not enough for local educators.

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"I think, first of all our goal is that every student should graduate. We certainly are proud that we are higher than state average, but we would like to see all of our kids be successful." - PR-B Superintendent, Dave Endicott

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"I think, first of all our goal is that every student should graduate," said PR-B Superintendent Dave Endicott. "We certainly are proud that we are higher than state average, but we would like to see all of our kids be successful. We know that our graduation rate is impacted by the fact we have an ALC program for students who aren't as successful in traditional classroom settings. Sometimes it takes longer for them to graduate. We also have students from PL (Pequot Lakes) in that program."

This is not the first time Pine River-Backus has had a higher rate than the state average. The rate for 2014 graduates reached 93.1 percent. In 2015, that rate dropped to 84.4 percent, but Pine River-Backus' smaller graduating classes means even one student can affect the percentage.

"I wasn't here for that," said Endicott, who joined the school district in 2016. "Going from 93.1 to 92.9, a lot of that is numbers. If you have 38 kids, one more or one less will change that percentage a bit. As far as the historical aspects of that, I couldn't give any response on that."

Pequot Lakes, which has boasted a graduation rate of 90 percent or better in each of the past five years, saw 100 of 109 seniors graduate in the spring of 2016.

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"I think one contributing factor is having a great school with good teachers who work very, very hard. Another would be our demographics - solid families who believe in education and make it a lifestyle." - Pequot Lakes Superintendent, Chris Lindholm

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"I think one contributing factor is having a great school with good teachers who work very, very hard," Superintendent Chris Lindholm said. "Another would be our demographics - solid families who believe in education and make it a lifestyle. When you put families that value education together with good schools, you get good results."

Lindholm also felt the school's high graduation rate could be attributed to the support systems in place at Pequot Lakes to ensure a high graduation rate.

"In 2014-15, the district made a significant investment in a seven-period day at the secondary level, then staffing to provide interventions and enrichment for students that needed help to make sure they were getting the support they need," Lindholm said. "We have continued that journey of building better support for our students. What we have today is a pretty robust system that delivers good results. It is only going to get better."

For Pine River-Backus, Endicott gave credit for the high graduation rate to staff and local parents.

"We have excellent teachers and paraprofessionals and staff that are concerned and care about the kids they have and work diligently to help them be successful," Endicott said. "I think we have good families that are engaged in student academic affairs at the school, also providing that support so their students can be successful. You have good staff people and good families so you get good results."

Intending to increase the graduation rate even further, Endicott said the key will be to increase engagement of students and their families and to work collaboratively.

One initiative for increasing graduation at PR-B is creating schedules that engage more and different types of students through such things as online courses, College in the Schools courses and technical education programs.

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"We are going to continually look at how we develop our career tech ed programs," Endicott said. "They are programs that across the state have fallen by the wayside during No Child Left Behind. How do we now build that back up and find ways to get students involved in that way? Can we get them connected to careers and internships and those types of things that would give them incentive and understanding of what it will take to be successful after they graduate?"

The statewide 82.8 graduation rate is an all-time high.

"We have seen a very consistent, solid focus from our commissioner on building systems of support across the state that drives the improvement process," Lindholm said. "I think they are getting results from that. It is a much different arena now than it was when I was in my principalship 10 years ago, and different for the better."

Crosslake Community School

In its second year with a high school program and a senior class, Crosslake Community School saw two of 15 eligible students graduate in the spring of 2016 - a rate of 13.3 percent. Director Todd Lyscio feels that rate will improve as the school's high school program grows and the staff has more time with students.

"When we look at our demographic, I would say we are still really young as a high school," Lyscio said. "When you see we had 15 students, of those 15 students, most are kids that we only had for a portion of those two years (that we have operated a high school). Some students had maybe only spent a semester with us or a quarter - it really varies ... Some of our seniors from last year were picked up in the second semester, and they came to us already behind from their previous high school."

To improve the charter school's trend, Lyscio hopes the school's staff will help those students not only catch up on their curriculum but also set them on a course for a timely graduation.

"Our focus may be a bit different than other online programs," Lyscio said. "We intentionally hire additional staff beyond what the learning module provides. We have employed learning coaches, and their job is to work alongside students virtually, helping them stay on task and get their work done. We are working to get kids who are already behind to a level of accountability that you don't see in every online program.

"We are not satisfied at all with a 13-percent graduation rate in 2016," Lyscio said. "That is not going to last."

Related Topics: PEQUOT LAKES
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