Caps and gowns: Schools making progress on graduations

Dwight Jones is wrapping up his first full academic year as Clark County School District superintendent, and his administration already has made huge progress toward one of its biggest goals: improving dismal graduation rates.

At a news conference Monday, Mr. Jones announced the district's official graduation rate increased from 59 percent last year to 65 percent this year, a number that could shoot even higher if up to 2,000 additional students just short of a diploma can complete requirements this summer.

The good news brings added significance to this month's commencement ceremonies - every single Clark County high school improved its graduation rate. "When you're trying to transform a system, it is so important that you also celebrate those early wins," Mr. Jones said.

This success can be directly attributed to aggressive intervention by district staff last summer. Officials identified 10,000 seniors who were not on pace to graduate this month - a disastrous number that projected to a 52 percent graduation rate. However, 7,500 of those students were only one or two classes shy of credit requirements or had come up short of passing the state's proficiency exam. Those students were counseled, told exactly where they stood, encouraged to persevere and offered tutoring, online courses, extra classes and mentoring.

Nearly 6,000 seniors hadn't passed the proficiency exam at the start of the year. As of April, almost 3,600 of them had passed. Some 4,200 seniors began the year credit-deficient. As of April, that number had shrunk to just over 1,800. And because those still short of graduation are committed to working through the summer, the school district has scheduled its first-ever August commencement.

The graduation rate is based off the 23,078 students who enrolled as freshmen in the fall of 2008. Some of those students moved out of town without notifying the district - they're considered dropouts, regardless of where they live and what they're doing. About 15,000 students will receive diplomas this month, 400 more than last year despite an overall decline in enrollment.

The school district has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons lately, largely because of teachers' contract dispute and the prospect of massive layoffs this summer. As a result, the teachers union has effectively declared war on the School Board and Mr. Jones. It should call a cease-fire and recognize the progress local schools have made this year. It would not have happened if Mr. Jones had embraced the status quo, and it would not have happened without the excellent work of scores of teachers and administrators.

Mr. Jones' no-excuses approach is making a difference. He deserves the full support of the School Board and the taxpaying public to fulfill another major goal: raising expectations and academic standards, thereby making a high school diploma more valuable.

"Today's good news is just the beginning," School Board Trustee Lorraine Alderman said Monday. We sure hope so.


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