Staging Success HCISD, DSISD maintains high graduation rates, despite growth

Even as enrollment continues to rise, area high schools have managed to keep graduation rates stable by accommodating growth and investing in special programs to keep at-risk students in class until they earn their diploma.

Senior class sizes at Dripping Springs High School have nearly doubled since 2009, but the graduation rate for the district remains high, with nearly 100 percent of seniors walking the stage during commencement ceremony every year.

Principal Joe Burns said accommodating for growth has happened organically.

“My belief is it’s just part of our culture,” Burns said. “Even as we’ve grown, we’ve been very conscious that we’re finding ways to connect every student to our school. We’re aware of the need to have kids feel connected and at home here.”

Last year, DSISD launched the graduation alternative program (GAP) for the students who may have had hurdles in graduating. GAP is set up to help students with extenuating circumstances, such as those who have to work to support their family. The program takes what staff have been providing students informally for years and offers it as an official program for kids to apply for at the tail end of their senior year, Burns said.

Not only does GAP provide academic support, it also allows participants to learn job skills and  helps them with career research. In the year since the program’s launch, Burns said several dozen students have completed GAP and have made it a “huge success.”

One of his favorite moments was watching a high school senior become the first person in their family to cross the stage as a graduate, he said.

“We’re excited about the accomplishments of the class of 2018,” Burns said. “They’ve done amazing things, and I know they’re prepared for anything in their future.”

Hays CISD has also found success by providing students with an alternative path to graduation.

In the past five years, the district’s graduation rate has stayed around 90 percent of students graduating in four years.

The district’s Live Oak Academy (LOA) has served as an alternative for students to receive their high school diploma since it opened in 2001, Principal Doug Agnew said.

“Here, everyone can be successful,” Agnew said. “If we have 180 graduates, there were 180 different ways to get there.”

By having smaller classes, students at Live Oak can complete assignments at their own pace and receive more one-on-one with teachers. A variety of students found more success at the academy than in the traditional high school setting, and for many different reasons. Some students suffer from social anxiety and feel more comfortable in the smaller school, while others were not flourishing socially or academically at their previous schools.

Enrollment at LOA is about 400 students, Agnew said. 

“Some people think this is where the bad kids come, and it’s not. There are lots of really good kids here who need a different place to be successful,” he said.

The typical student begins his or her time at Live Oak during the junior or senior year, sometimes as sophomores, Agnew said. Last year, the senior graduating class was 176 students, and he predicts the class of 2018 will have around 181 walk the stage.

One of the school’s strengths is the dedicated and passionate staff, he said. In the past five years, no teachers have transferred to other schools. Each time a teacher has left, it was to retire from the profession. That says a lot about how they feel about their jobs, Agnew said.

“We’re passionate, and love working with kids on campus,” he said.

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