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Graduation rate improves

Suffolk Public Schools improved its on-time graduation rate for the second year in a row with the class of 2017, according to data released by the Virginia Department of Education on Wednesday.

About 87.1 percent of students who entered high school in 2013 graduated from one of the city’s three public high schools in 2017, according to the numbers calculated as the on-time graduation rate. That’s compared to 87 percent in 2016 and 86.2 percent in 2015.

King’s Fork and Nansemond River high schools also increased their on-time graduation rates, while Lakeland saw a slight decrease.

Nearly 39 percent of 2017 graduates division-wide earned an advanced studies diploma, according to the numbers.

Statewide, 91.1 percent of students earned a Board of Education-approved diploma, putting Suffolk Public Schools behind the state.

Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney said the school division is using a number of approaches to better track students who may have left the division, identify students in need of help before they drop out and find students who dropped out and encourage them to complete their education or earn their GED.

“Schools will continue to utilize graduation coaches at each school who are identifying students who need credit recovery or remediation,” Whitney stated in an emailed response to questions. “Remediation efforts begin early in the fall in some cases, to ensure students are receiving academic assistance in particular areas.”

Whitney said graduation coaches track down unconfirmed and dropout students by calling last known numbers, making home visits and even contacting friends and family members regarding their whereabouts.

“Once students have been tracked, they are encouraged to come back and work on getting their GED or complete their high school diploma,” Whitney stated. “Additionally, supporting struggling students within the building allows them to enroll in the GED program before dropping out. We also feel that our virtual learning program has helped meet the diverse need of our schools.”

The division’s on-time graduation rate is down slightly from its high of 87.2 in 2013 but has improved significantly since 2008, the first year the metric was measured by the state. That year, the on-time graduation rate was reported as 72.2.

Division-wide, female students completed high school in four years more often than male students. More than 90 percent of girls graduated on time, compared with only about 84 percent of boys.

Racial subgroups are also measured by the state. White students graduated on time 92.6 percent of the time, compared with 84.4 percent for black students.

The state also measures the on-time graduation rate for students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students and students who were homeless at any point during their high school careers. All of those subgroups graduated on time well below the division-wide average.

The on-time graduation rate measures the percentage of students who earned one of five types of board-approved diplomas in four years. However, the state also tracks students who earned their GED, which brings Suffolk’s completion rate to 88.7. Thirty students who should have graduated with the class of 2017 are still enrolled and trying to complete their education, the state reported.

The division-wide dropout rate was 8.2 percent.