Local high school graduation rates beat state norm

SBHS graduation

The county’s two main high schools have higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates than the state.
In the 2013-14 school year—the most current records available from the California Department of Education—San Benito High School had a graduation rate of 93.9 percent with a 4.4 percent dropout rate and Anzar had a rate of 88.7 percent with a 8.5 percent dropout rate. The state had a rate of 80.8 percent with an 11.6 percent dropout rate.
“I’ve been here about 11 years and we’ve always had a really good graduation rate,” said Adrian Ramirez, an assistant principal at San Benito High School.
The graduation rates for 2013-14 compare with a 94.1 percent rate at Christopher High School in Gilroy, 89.4 percent at Gilroy High School in Gilroy, 92.1 percent at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, and 92.6 percent at Ann Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill.
In the past five years, San Benito has hovered within a few decimal points of a 93 percent rate. The lowest graduation rate in the five-year range was 92.8 percent in 2009-10 and the highest was 95.5 percent in 2012-13.
“There’s a lot of different variables that come into play,” Ramirez said. “Once you get into that high of a graduation rate, it fluctuates from 1-2 percent.”
The slightly lower-than-normal graduation rate of 92.8 percent, with a slightly higher dropout rate of 5 percent in 2009-10, was likely tied to the economy and families looking for work and “adjusting to the mortgage real estate situation” at the time, the administrator said.
“That was right around the time where we had a lot of families moving in and out of the community,” said Ramirez, who added that this was not the only factor that contributed to the rates that year.
For this school year, the preliminary graduation rate is 94.9 percent, Ramirez said. If some of the school’s current 14 non-graduates finish the courses they need to graduate this summer with passing grades or the school learns they passed the high school exit exam they took again in May, that number could climb even higher, he explained.
San Benito High School also serves fifth-year seniors, including life skill and special day class students who can be at the campus more than four years, explained administrators.
“If you subtract the fifth-year seniors and obviously that is something that we as a school are happy to serve,” said Superintendent John Perales. “… But when you subtract that 21 seniors, then you’re looking at a graduation rate of 97 percent.”
Ramirez credits support programs, including the campus’ summer school program, for keeping the school’s graduation rate higher than the state numbers. While many districts slashed summer programs four to five years ago when they had to make big cuts, San Benito High School kept theirs, giving students a second chance to earn credits for classes they may have failed during the school year but need to pass in order to graduate.
“We were very fortunate and were able to sustain that,” the administrator said.
The school offers reading and algebra support classes that students can take alongside their regular courses in those subjects during the school year. The campus also offers a school year course, summer school class or weekend workshops to support those working to pass the high school exit exam, he said.
The school offers a freshmen academy to help students learn to navigate the large campus, Ramirez said. Some departments also support a test corrections program, where teachers award partial credit to students who meet with them to correct questions they got wrong on exams, the administrator said.
Just 12 miles away in San Juan Bautista, Anzar High School brought home a graduation rate of 88.7 percent in 2013-14 with a dropout rate of 8.5 percent. While the most recent 2013-14 rates were the lowest in five years, at a small school with between 60 and 85 students a year per class, just a few students can cause the percentages to change drastically from year to year.
“A variance in percentage means just one or two students within a cohort,” wrote Anzar Principal Charlene McKowen in an email to the Free Lance, explaining that a cohort is a group of students tracked over a four-year period.
In 2012-13, the school had an especially high graduation rate of 97.4 percent with a 1.3 percent dropout rate.
Generally, there aren’t many senior year dropouts, McKowen said. The state’s definition of the word “dropout” also refers to those students who withdrew from Anzar for a variety of reasons, including to go to another district, another state or a private school, and weren’t properly claimed where they landed next, explained McKowen.
McKowen credits its individualized approach for the high graduation rate.
“We try to get every student to understand how important they are as individuals as early as possible, in their freshman year,” the principal wrote in an email to the Free Lance.

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