Prior Lake High School 2018 graduation

Hundreds of Prior Lake High School graduates walked across the stage at Dan Patch Stadium June 8 to pick up their diplomas last year.

Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools’ four-year graduation rates ranked well above the state average during the 2017-18 school year, though minority-student rates still lag, according to a state report released last week.

Graduating students totaled 627 out of 680 for the year, a rate of 92.2 percent versus the state average 83.2 percent.

The Minnesota Report Card, released by the Minnesota Department of Education, also found the four-year rate lowered slightly lower from the year before but the five- and six-year rates are slightly up, including an increase in graduation at Bridges Area Learning Center.

“We’re excited to encourage students to keep going if they haven’t (graduated),” said Superintendent Teri Staloch. “If it takes them five to six years, that’s great. Our end goal is our students graduating with a high school diploma.”

Director of Teaching and Learning Kevin Schuttinger said the slight rise in five- and six-year graduations — particularly at Bridges — is a testament to the district’s qualified educators.

“Kids are dropping out less,” Schuttinger said. “Kids are finding themselves, and teachers are helping them find themselves. A lot of times, kids find themselves (at Bridges) and get to that finish line. They see their potential for work and for life continuing after high school. That’s a huge motivator for kids.”

Staloch noted graduation rates are not necessarily a high school goal but a career-long process from kindergarten and onward.

“I think it’s important to see it that way and as a celebration of what our staff does, helping students with their belief in themselves to accomplish their goals,” she said, pointing to the large majority of students who are involved in after-school activities. “Those things connect kids to the school and keep them attending.”

The graduation rate for black students decreased by nearly 10 points, according to a district press release, to 68.8 percent, or 22 of 32 students. The district also sees achievement gaps for Hispanic students with an 82.6 percent rate and mixed-race students with an 83.3 percent rate.

“There’s a lot of layers to how we’re responding to that,” Schuttinger said. “For the past three years, we’ve been working on equity and raising awareness.”

Groups of teachers are trained each year to use culturally responsive teaching, which helps teachers understand and combat disparities, he said, and the district looks closely at data about student enrollment and achievement.

“If we find disparities, we ask what we can do within our power, through curriculum or pedagogy,” Schuttinger said.

Staloch said the district is changing some of its grading practices for more flexible learning in classrooms.

“Instead of saying you failed the test, let’s move on, we say our responsibility is to ensure you learn,’” Staloch said. “We want to give students another chance to show us. We’re working on those things.”

The graduation rate for students receiving English language services ended the year at 77.3 percent. Students receiving special education services graduated at 81.7 percent, and those eligible for free and reduced-priced meals graduated at 72.3 percent.

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