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August 2, 2014

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CCSD makes strides in quest to increase graduation rate

District sees rate increase 16 percent from 2012 to 2013

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Steve Marcus

Silverado High School graduate Bogart Banteurt celebrates as his name is announced during the Clark County School District’s second annual summer high school graduation ceremony for summer school graduates and at-risk students at the Las Vegas Academy in downtown Las Vegas Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013.

Updated Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 | 4:27 p.m.

The Clark County School District’s high school graduation rate jumped nearly 10 percentage points in one school year, primarily because of better student accounting practices, officials said.

Clark County’s graduation rate increased for the second consecutive year, going from 61.6 percent in 2012 to 71.5 percent in 2013.

The 71.5 rate represents a 16 percent jump — the fourth highest increase among Nevada’s 17 school districts. For the first time in three years, Clark County's graduation rate surpassed the statewide average. Nevada's graduation rate improved by 12 percent, to 70.7 percent.

Clark County had 16,194 graduates in the class of 2013, an increase of 900 graduates from 2012, according to data released today by the Nevada Education Department.

However, the nation’s fifth-largest school district still lags behind the national graduation rate average of 74.7 percent. Even with the 2013 gains, Clark County ranked 12th among Nevada’s 17 school districts.

Gov. Brian Sandoval said in a statement the graduation rate still needed to improve but said the data was a firm indication that Nevada was moving in the right direction. He said efforts to reduce class sizes, improve services to English-language learners and instituting all-day kindergarten programs will yield more gains.

Clark County School Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky agreed.

“Today is a day for celebration and appreciation,” Skorkowsky said this morning at a news conference at Las Vegas High School. “But we have to get back to work tomorrow. We still have to do better.”

Skorkowsky attributed CCSD’s higher graduation rate to two factors:

• The School District refined its student tracking system, taking better account of students in the class of 2013. This reason accounts for 60 percent of the district’s graduation rate increase, Skorkowsky said.

Historically, the School District has struggled to account for all its students. Typically, about 4 in 10 students transfer in and out of Las Vegas schools every year.

In the past, students who transferred to another school, moved to another state or died were sometimes considered dropouts, which counted against the district when it came to calculating its graduation rate.

Under former Superintendent Dwight Jones, the School District began taking additional tracking measures, calling relatives to verify new addresses and requesting transfer forms and transcripts from other districts. The School District also purchased a new information system, called Infinite Campus, to help track students. The previous system, called SASI, was more than 20 years old and no longer being supported by its vendor.

After instituting these new accounting practices, the School District found anomalies in its data, including students who had already graduated and students who transferred to other schools. One student, who was thought to have dropped out of school, was actually found enrolled at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, Skorkowsky said.

With this better student accounting, the district was able to find 5,411 students who were considered “successful transfers” and didn’t count against the district. In 2012, the district was only able to find 3,463 successful transfers.

“We were hurting ourselves by not taking the extra step to make sure every student in every classroom was counted,” Skorkowsky said. “From now on, we have to be accountable for every student.”

However, Skorkowsky warned this large graduation rate bump will only be a "one-time" occurrence, because the district will use improved student accounting practices in the future.

• The School District continued to focus on identifying struggling students and creating individual plans to help them graduate. This reason accounts for about 40 percent of the district’s graduation rate increase, Skorkowsky said.

Under Jones, the School District launched its “Reclaim Your Future” initiative. School attendance officers, administrators, teachers and community members called homes and went door to door to find high school dropouts and encourage them to return to school.

In addition, the district’s 49 high schools pulled credit-deficient students into online “credit retrieval” classes and ran before- and after-school, weekend and even summer proficiency “boot camps” to help students pass their high school exit exams. The district also started a community-mentoring program to counsel students and encourage them to think about their future careers.

Establishing stronger connections between students and their families, teachers and community will help lower Nevada’s high school dropout rate, Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga said.

“In order to encourage more students to stay in school, we must make high school relevant for all students and provide targeted support to students who need it most,” Erquiaga said in a statement.

CCSD’s efforts seemed to help students, particularly from minority backgrounds. Hispanic students posted the biggest gains — a 24.6 percent increase, which outpaced the district and state increases.

Kristian Ortiz, 18, said he took advantage of all the programs to graduate last year. Ortiz said he was 12 credits behind when he started his senior year at Las Vegas High School in fall 2012.

Over the course of the school year, Ortiz went to his high school’s “early-bird” and “late-bird” tutoring classes and went to Saturday proficiency boot camps. Through hard work and the guidance of his teachers, Ortiz said he was able to graduate. Ortiz is now working as a dishwasher at a Caesars Palace restaurant to save up enough money to enroll next fall at the College of Southern Nevada.

“I had so many teachers who didn’t let me give up,” Ortiz said. “Walking across that graduation stage was the best feeling in my life. I never thought it would happen for me.”

Sun political reporter Cy Ryan contributed to this report.

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