IHS graduation rate improves

Principal Scott Carson credited several changes to a boost in graduation rates. Among them: moving the alternative school into the IHS building, outreach efforts to help freshmen transition to high school, and more technical education options.

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February 22, 2022 - 10:03 AM

The Iola High School Class of 2021 celebrates in May. The class had a graduation rate of 91.4%, which is much higher than previous years. Register file photo

Iola High School’s graduation rate reached its highest level in years, surpassing the state average for possibly the first time. 

Principal Scott Carson last week gave board members an update on graduation rates. 

In May 2021, 91.3% of IHS seniors graduated. 

That’s higher than the county average of 90.4%, and even higher than the state average of 88.1%

Carson said he believes it’s the first time the school’s rate is higher than the state average, at least in recent history. 

Earlier this year, Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson said graduation rates are at an all-time high but still below the goal of 95% for all districts nationwide. The U.S. average is 88%.

Carson said he thinks the graduation rate will continue to improve.

“We’re looking to be a little higher this spring,” he said.

In the spring of 2020, the graduation rate at IHS was 85.3%. In 2019, it was 77.1%; in 2018, it was 81%.

CARSON attributed the increase to moving the Crossroads alternative education program into the IHS building, as well as increased outreach to freshmen to help them better transition to high school and the Rural Regional Technical Center at LaHarpe. 

“With all of those things going on, it’s helped us keep kids in school and graduate,” Carson said. 

Starting in the fall of 2020, the district required its alternative education students to attend at least 10 hours at IHS each week and meet with teachers and paraprofessionals on a regular basis. 

The alternative education program allows students the option for virtual learning. It  gives them an opportunity to learn at their own pace, without the distractions and disruptions in a classroom setting. 

Students who complete the program graduate with IHS students, but typically have very little interaction with other students and staff at the school, which is why the program was brought back under the high school roof. 

The program originally began at a building in Gas with four teachers. In 2006, the graduation rate was 90% but gradually dropped over the years to the mid-80s, Carson reported in April of 2020 when he asked the school board for permission to make major changes to the program. 

The COVID-19 pandemic had proven the challenges of a strictly virtual education, and the value of in-person learning, he said. 

In addition to requiring students to attend some in-person learning, those changes also restricted the program to juniors and seniors, with sophomores allowed only on a case-by-case basis.

FRESHMEN need a little help to transition to high school, Carson said.

Students who fall behind as freshmen find it difficult to catch up, and they’re more likely to drop out when they reach the challenges that come as juniors or seniors, he said.

He wants to provide more of a cushion for freshmen to help them succeed from the beginning. He and other administrators and staff are still working to figure out what might work best, but he hopes to introduce several programs “to keep those 9th graders a little more locked in.”

“It’s their freshmen and sophomore years where they struggle,” he said. 

“If we can get them to their junior year, we’ve got them.”

THE RRTC programs at LaHarpe also offer more options to reach students who may not succeed in a traditional education model, but still keep them attending school, Carson noted.

Students can attend programs in welding, building construction, wind energy and health care. 

They earn certificates that allow them to enter the workforce directly after graduation.

Students also can earn “embedded credits” in math, English and science. Those technical classes teach skills that are valuable for those subjects, but require an investment of time that may not allow them to take such courses. Instead, they get credit for learning those subjects. 

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