The Ottumwa Courier

March 9, 2013

Celebrate improved graduation rates

Our opinion

Ottumwa Courier

OTTUMWA — The recent report that a higher percentage of students are graduating from Iowa high schools compared to other states is news worth celebrating.

And area school districts are doing their part to promote and encourage these gains by creating new pathways for students as well as engaging these young people, their families, faculty and staff toward graduation success.

In the area, the Cardinal school district recently celebrated its highest graduation rate in the district’s history: 98.51 percent.

Cardinal Superintendent Joel Pedersen noted that the key to these successes is building relationships with  students and their families, followed by improved instruction.

The district last year established its “Ketchup Room” and “Ketchup Saturday,” which provides students the chance to come in before or after school or on Saturday morning to work with teachers on completing assignments.

The idea of the program is “it’s no longer acceptable not to do your work,” Pedersen told the Courier.

The program, after just one year, shows that students are getting the message — the district went from 473 “F”s issued to 47 this school year.

Grades have improved, and so have behavior and attitudes.

“It’s all about changing that culture and climate,” Pedersen said. “It’s not just academic success that can happen; it’s improving student behavior and attendance rates. We’re going to hold you accountable to getting your work done.”

And that translates to greater success and more students walking across the aisle, earning those important diplomas.

In Ottumwa, the graduation rate has improved to 81 percent.

“We have steadily increased that over the last five to 10 years,” said Ottumwa Superintendent Davis Eidahl. “We’ve gone from what used to be about a 70-75 percent graduation rate to 81 percent with three years of consecutive increase.”

Programs like the Freshman Academy, a dedicated graduation coach and more one-on-one assistance has pushed students toward getting their diplomas.

The district is also working with younger students.

Reading Recovery, which helps elementary students with reading mastery and comprehension, is one of the keys toward future graduation success.

A child who doesn’t read at grade level is four times less likely to graduate, Eidahl told the Courier. “It’s very, very important that we address it early and increase the probability of each and every child graduating by getting them to read by the time they’re entering the third grade.”

Cardinal and Ottumwa, of course, are not alone in their efforts to improve graduation numbers. Moravia and Moulton-Udell are at the top of the list with 100 percent graduation rates, while the latest numbers from Pekin, Davis County, Keota, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont, Sigourney and Albia are all above 90 percent.

We have excellent school districts in southern Iowa. Unfortunately, there will always be those students who struggle for a variety of reasons. But working one-on-one with students and becoming more engaged as either parents or as a community will boost graduation numbers even more.

And that’s something we can all be proud of.