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WL-WV lands top graduation rate in Oregon

When graduation rates across the state of Oregon were released earlier this month, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District found itself at the very top, with a rate of 93 percent for the 2014-15 school year. West Linn High School’s rate of 97 percent also tied for the top mark in the entire state with Riverdale High School in Lake Oswego.

The district’s overall graduation rate of 93 percent, meanwhile, is up from 88 percent last year and 90 percent in 2013-14. While the district doesn’t put as much stock in year-to-year differences, Superintendent Bill Rhoades said this year’s increase is significant when you consider the average of the past several years.

“We are really proud of these results,” he said. “Oftentimes we’re not just looking at a one-year result, because this wasn’t something we did in just one year. There’s a process to get to this point. ... We know that we’re kind of looking at 90 percent, that’s been our average for several years, so this year it actually is significant for us to get 93 percent. But we don’t want to compare just year-to-year rates, because that can give you a false sense of joy and a false sense of disappointment, too.”

Oregon’s overall graduation rate of 74 percent is a little more than 2 percent better than 2013-14, but still below the national average of 80 percent. State Rep. Julie Parrish, whose legislative district includes WL-WV, applauded the results, particularly in West Linn and Wilsonville.

“As a mother of three teenagers, one in high school, I’m encouraged by today’s graduation rate numbers,” she said in a press release Feb. 4. “It shows what can be done when we give students and their families more choices, and when we make targeted investments in programs like career and technology education that keep kids engaged in their own learning.”TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - West Linn High School's graduation rate was 97 percent in 2014-15, tied for tops in Oregon.

Opportunities are one thing Rhoades credited for WL-WV’s success. He said one of the district’s priorities over the years has been to provide students with as many learning options and extra-curriculars as possible in hopes of keeping students engaged and looking forward to school every day.

“I think we’ve seen across the nation, and in Oregon to some extent, a narrowing of the curriculum,” Rhoades said. “... other things have been cut out of kids’ days that actually might be the things that get them most excited about school and coming fully engaged. We’ve just never gone into that thinking that narrowing curriculum would be helpful in keeping kids engaged and motivated. And really we have the community to thank for many of the opportunities our students enjoy.”

“I would make a little bit of a shout-out to our whole staff (for) buying into ideas of improving instructional practice in a way that really tries to leverage participation from all students,” added Wilsonville High School Principal Dan Schumaker. “I think that our focus on instruction that gets all students engaged is an incredibly equitable practice.”

Wilsonville High School in particular saw a large bump from 2013-14, improving from 84 percent to 94 percent, which was the fourth-highest percentage in the state. Altogether the district had just 37 students that failed to meet graduation requirements — a number that Rhoades said allows the district to shoot for 100 percent graduation in future years.

WL-WV also improved its graduation rate for the multi-racial demographic (90 percent compared to a 73 percent state average), students with disabilities (75 percent compared to a 52 percent state average) and the economically disadvantaged (78 percent compared to a 66 percent state average).

Rhoades, Schumaker and West Linn High School Principal Kevin Mills all agree that the district’s personalized approach to teaching students is as big a reason as any why this year’s graduation rate is higher than it has been.

“Ultimately our goal is always that 100 percent. Our goal is to get every kid across that finish line, giving them some opportunities and avenues to have success past high school,” Mills said. “We start out the year every year talking about ‘We do have a high graduation rate at West Linn High School.’ And it’s a matter of how do we keep this momentum going in the right direction, because the last thing you want to do is become complacent.”

“Something I’ve learned from our counselors is that it’s all about personalized education. It’s the way to get every single kid to be successful,” Schumaker added.

Rhoades said he’s also proud with the work the district has done with students who might not count toward the graduation rate, either taking more than four years to earn their diploma or earning a General Education Degree (GED) instead. He praised Arts and Technology High School and Principal Saskia Dressler’s work in particular, saying that while a 100 percent graduation rate is always the primary goal, preparing students for life after high school is the ultimate objective.

“The other thing is there are kids that we’re giving great support to, that actually get a GED and get a diploma, but never count in this graduation data,” Rhoades said. “Just because kids might not land in this data, doesn’t mean we’re not going to give them everything we can.”

Contact Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or akilstrom@pamplinmedia.com.