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Cloquet Schools focus on graduation rates

The Minnesota Department of Education released good news on graduation rates last week — news that translates well to Carlton County.

The Department of Education said that high school graduation rates on a statewide basis rose from 77.55 percent in 2013 to 79.48 percent in 2014.

In Carlton County, the numbers are also good — and in Cloquet’s case, better for American Indian students, though the district lags the state overall average by three percentage points.

Statewide, 48.75 percent of American Indian students graduated last year, but Cloquet beat that rate by a full 10 percent, graduating 58.97 percent of its Indian students.

“While we’re pleased to compare so well with the state scores, our focus is more on the students than on the statistics,” Cloquet School Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said. “Ultimately, we want every student to graduate.”

Statistics being what they are, Scarbrough also noted that how the numbers are figured can tell as big a story as the numbers themselves.

“What happens if a student enters our district midway through their education, may not have the tools he or she needs to graduate, and the number goes against our district?” he asked. “How is that figured and it is a true reflection of graduation rate?”

But the state has to start somewhere, and Cloquet’s numbers of 76 percent over the last four years and 80 percent over the last five years compared roughly with state averages.

But Cloquet High School Principal Warren Peterson notes that the process by which students graduate — and by which students in danger of not graduating are identified — is complex and thorough.

“There is a whole variety of things,” Peterson said. “It looks like a patchwork but it’s really quite organized.”

In an effort to raise graduation rates, Cloquet students in danger can be identified through a program called Kids in Trouble (KIT), which Peterson said seeks to identify individuals with academic issues before they become a problem.

“We also have tutor halls, where juniors and seniors who might have open lunch but have academic issues don’t have open lunch because they’re matched with teachers who can help them in a special study hall.”

Programs like Light at the End of the Tunnel (LET) then take over to help students along the road to the 23 credits required to graduate from Cloquet High School.

American Indian students have access to the district’s “Check and Connect” program, where parents are involved with district home and life check-ups.   “We meet with parents and work with teachers on behalf of our Indian students in grades 9-12,” Peterson said.

These are, of course, in addition to traditional programs such as Special Education.

“We also have a course called Ingenuity, which is online for students who are in danger of slipping out of the program,” Peterson said. “This is for kids who are in danger of dropout for behavior, family issues, pregnancy or any other reason. There are also family school support workers who work on students with home contracts in collaboration with the county.

And then, there are extra-curricular activities.

“The Minnesota State High School League mandates that a student must be passing all his or her courses to participate in extra-curriculars,” Peterson said. “About 60 percent of our students are in something, either drama or mock trial or sports. The Pythagorean Theorem may not be the most exciting thing to them, but they all want to play on Friday night.”

In addition, the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program (CAAEP) has graduated an additional 57 students in the last four years.

“When it comes to graduation rates at an alternative education program, it’s particularly difficult to make comparisons,” CAAEP Principal Robbi Mondati said. “The standard graduation rates published by (the state) take four-year graduation rates into consideration only. This skews our numbers.

“I would also note that by taking many of the most at-risk students from all of the area high schools, many of the students in their last year or two, we are helping increase their graduation rates and may be lowering ours, because of the extra time potentially needed to recover enough credit to graduate,” Mondati added.

But in the end, the goal is to graduate students.

“I look forward to graduation days,” Scarbrough said. “As we shake hands with 180 or more students crossing the platform, this is a time when I feel like we have really accomplished something working together with our students and families.

“We will do everything we can do to improve our graduation rates,” he added. “We look at our grades and other data in order to find those students at risk of not graduating. We work with these students and their families to reach that graduation goal, and most of the time that goal is reached. In some cases that goal is not reached, but we pray we have helped give those students the skills they need to be successful and even to find alternative pathways to achieve a high school diploma.”

Carlton County four-year graduation rates

Source: Minnesota Department of Education

Statewide: 79.48 percent

Cloquet 76.81

Carlton 90.48

Barnum 92.41

Cromwell-Wright 96.30

Moose Lake 96.88

Esko 99.01

Wrenshall 84.00