State's graduation rate hits all-time high

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High school graduation rate hits all-time high
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More high school students are graduating in West Virginia than ever before now, with just under 90 percent of the seniors in the Class of 2016 collecting diplomas.

“I’m very hopeful for the Class of 2017 that they will be the first class to carry us over the threshold of 90 percent and then we go even higher because, for me, when one child drops out of high school, that’s a failure,” said Dr. Michael Martirano, state superintendent of schools.

“We need to make certain that all children graduate.”

Martirano was at George Washington High School in Kanawha County on Tuesday morning to reveal the 89.81 percent high school graduation rate, up to “all-time high” in the Mountain State from 86.5 percent in 2015 when the national average was 80 percent.

“This metric point, this number is so significant because it represents real children graduating. If children drop out of high school, they are destined for challenges,” Martirano said. “This is a social justice issue. This is a moral imperative.”

Of the 118 high schools in West Virginia, 47 reached the 90 percent threshold in 2015. For 2016, 70 schools were at or above 90 percent for graduation, information from the state Department of Education indicated.

“Our goal is 90 percent, that’s our floor. We want to go even higher,” Martirano said.

George Washington High School was among the top schools for graduations with a rate of 95.9 percent in 2016, compared with 75 percent as recently as 2009.

“I think that we all do a good job — our counselors, our cooks, our custodians, our administrators, our teachers — I think it’s a whole community environment of talking the importance of graduation,” said George Aulenbacher, GW principal.

The overall 2015 high school graduation rate put West Virginia at No. 18 nationally and, when it came to specific categories, No. 4 for African American high school students, No. 6 for students of low socioeconomic status and No. 19 for special education students, according to Martirano.

National rankings for 2016 were not available as of Tuesday.

In 2010, West Virginia’s high school graduation rate was 74.7 percent, near the national average at the time.

“It just means that we’re changing lives, we’re providing hope for young people and providing hope for our state,” Martirano said of the improvements. “The higher the graduation rate is, the better off our state will be economically, in terms of our own safety, in terms of our own well-being.”

A diploma, Aulenbacher said, is one of the most crucial things anyone can get in a lifetime.

“We have 1,078 kids in this school and each one of them have a story,” he said when asked about the possibility of a 100 percent graduation rate in the future at GWHS.

“I think it’s important that we figure out what it is that drives them, what’s important to them, what they’re passionate about and then try to develop our curriculum and our experiences around the individual, rather than looking at the whole.”