Durango High School improved its four-year graduation rate from 86.1 percent in 2017 to 87.4 percent in 2018, a seemingly small amount that obscures a major improvement in the graduation rate of Native American students.
The rate also bested the state average four-year graduation rate of 80.7 percent based on statistics released by the Colorado Department of Education.
The four-year graduation rate for Native American students at DHS jumped from 50 percent in 2017 to 84.6 percent in 2018.
“Our goal is to make steady improvements. We want to be at 90 percent, and we’re getting closer to hitting that mark,” said DHS Principal Jon Hoerl in an interview.
Hoerl noted the four-year graduation rate for DHS in 2011 was only 69 percent. He also noted the dropout rate at DHS fell to 1.1 percent in 2018 from 1.9 percent in 2017, a decrease that he called a “marked improvement.”
DHS was aided by an American Indian Measurable Success Initiative grant during the 2017-18 school year. The grant was used to boost advanced placement teachers working with Native American students in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
It also was used to bolster advance placement summer lessons and to set up mock exams. The grant also helped provide advisers to aid Native American students in applying for college and ensuring they followed through with college applications during summer.
The AIMS grant, Hoerl said, reinforced his belief that strong relationships with adults are key to help students academically and in reaching their college and career goals after graduation.
“Nothing is better than a positive relationship with an adult in the building,” he said.
Hoerl said efforts funded by the AIMS grant that helped with Native American graduation rates are being replicated in use with all students and with other minority groups.
The DHS Native American 2018 graduation rate of 84.6 percent was higher than the state’s 80.7 percent average for all students. The state average graduation rate for Native American students in 2018 was 68.5 percent.
Also, the 2018 DHS Hispanic graduation rate of 80.6 percent only narrowly missed equaling the overall state average of 80.7 percent, and it bested the state average graduation rate for Hispanic students of 73.4 percent.
The AIMS grant also built on existing efforts DHS has established to boost the academic successes of all students, efforts that also emphasize developing strong student relationships with teachers, counselors, staff members and administrators.
Several years ago, DHS overhauled its counseling office – bolstering its academic counseling staff to four advisers in addition to two counselors who concentrate on students’ social and emotional needs. Hoerl gives some credit to the counselors for improvements in graduation rates.
Academic counselors follow the same student for all four years and ensure adherence to an academic plan created individually based on a student’s academic and career interests.
“It’s given us an ability to track kids and get them back on track when they slide off course,” he said.
Students have been placed into five different groups, called “tiers,” based on their academic proficiencies and their career interests. Each week, students in one of the tiers are examined by a Flex Team. The Flex Team is made up of an academic counselor, a school counselor, a psychologist or social worker, an administrator and a special education specialist. Weekly examinations of students in each tier means every student’s progress is examined at least once during a five-week period by the Flex Team.
“It’s allowed us to improve our early warning indicators,” Hoerl said.
The Flex Team will note when a student has changed peer groups, has deteriorated academically in a subject, is going through a family crisis or didn’t make a sports team.
Seniors, Hoerl said, are given particular scrutiny. Individual plans are developed for seniors to get back on track if their grades have slid or if they’ve failed a class.
The system, Hoerl said, has given the school “early warning indicators” when students go off track.