The Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, and Lakeland school districts all beat the state average for high school graduation rates last year.
Statewide, 79.7 percent of Idaho students completed high school in the 2016-17 school year, a slight increase from the previous year.
Among Kootenai County’s largest school districts, Lakeland led the pack, graduating 320 of 356 students, or 89.9 percent. Lakeland’s Timberlake High School in Spirit Lake boasted a rate of 93.9 percent, narrowly eclipsing the 93.3 percent graduation rate at Lakeland High, the district’s other traditional high school in Rathdrum. Mountain View Alternative High School, also in Rathdrum, handed out diplomas to 66 percent of its students.
Lakeland Joint School District Superintendent Becky Meyer said the numbers reflect a community-wide effort from parents, teachers and students.
“Our faculty just care so much about all students that people don’t want to leave because they feel so valued,” Meyer said.
Meyer applauded the efforts made by district employees to reach every student.
“We just don’t give up on our students, and we don’t let them give up on themselves,” Meyer said.
Post Falls High School had the highest graduation rate of any public school among the three districts at 94.9 percent. However, New Vision Alternative High School in Post Falls graduated only 44.9 percent of its students, giving the district an overall rate of 85.4 percent, or 310 of 363 students.
“We take an ‘every kid counts’ attitude to make sure that every kid receives special attention,” said Jerry Keane, superintendent of Post Falls schools.
Keane said district staff members do their best to support students who may be dealing with difficult or overwhelming circumstances.
“We work hard at trying to keep kids in school even if they’re not having success,” Keane said.
Keane also noted that while the rate at New Vision may seem low, many students at the alternative school take an extra year to finish their schooling and therefore aren’t officially considered graduates.
According to the Idaho Department of Education, 21 percent of students who failed to graduate with their classes in 2017 returned for the 2017-18 school year.
The Coeur d’Alene School District split the difference between its two neighboring districts, landing with an 86.5 percent graduation rate, or 597 of 690 students. Lake City High School had a rate of 91 percent, compared to 88.7 percent at Coeur d’Alene High School. Venture Alternative High School, also in Coeur d’Alene, graduated 50.8 percent of its students.
Mike Nelson, the Coeur d’Alene School District director of curriculum and assessment, said the district was “not pleased” about the 1.9 percent decrease from the previous school year’s graduation rate, though he cautioned that the change was fairly minor.
Nelson also clarified that the number of students in the graduation class is determined by ninth-grade enrollment. Whether those students complete high school within the district or elsewhere, they are still considered part of the district where they attended ninth grade.
Nelson pointed out that special education students — many of whom must re-enroll after graduation in order to continue receiving services from the district until age 21 — do not count as graduates.
“Even if special education students graduate with their peers, they are considered dropouts once they re-enroll the next year,” Nelson said. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s the game being played nationwide.”
Among charter schools, Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy graduated 73 of 74 students for a rate of 98.6 percent.
At the Kootenai Bridge Academy, 82 of 309 students, or 26.5 percent, earned a diploma. While that number may seem low, Principal Charles Kenna noted that all students at Kootenai Bridge have previously dropped out before coming to the school.
He said many students eventually graduate but may take an extra year or two to complete all credits.
“We call them ‘13th, 14th, and 15th-graders,’” Kenna said. “But as I always tell them, better late than never.”
For the 2015-16 school year, 27 percent of Kootenai Bridge students graduated on schedule, according to a report provided by the school.
However, when including students who graduated a year or more behind schedule, the rate jumped to 46 percent, more in line with other alternative schools in the area.
North Idaho STEM Charter Academy will graduate its first class — expected to be seven students, according to the school’s website — this spring.