Hastings Public Schools reached its highest graduation rate in five years, and outpaced the state by a large margin, according to Minnesota Department of Education data released on Tuesday.

The district posted a 95.7% graduation rate in 2018, compared to a state average of 83.2%. The district's rise is a 2.1% increase since 2014, which also outpaced the state's 1.8% four-year growth.

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The high school's rate outpaced the district-wide rate - which includes the district's alternative learning programs - at 96.2%. Hastings High School Principal Mike Johnson attributed the graduation rate to lower suspensions, increased principal and staff support and the school's post-high school readiness classes and programs.

"I'm really proud of our teachers and counselors that want to connect with every student, and want to make sure everyone has a plan after high school," he said. "(The rate) really is a reflection of the strong relationship we have with our students and the strong support from our community."

Johnson said that the high school suspended 29 students last year, which he said would've been dramatically higher 20 years ago. The high school has also started to offer college classes, more difficult classes and workshop classes in technical skills that prepare students for immediately entering the workforce after graduating.

Overall, Johnson gave credit to the students.

"Let's face it, they're the ones that are graduating," he said.

The district also saw a spike in graduation for special education students to 87.1%, up from 69.2% in 2014. Students on free or reduced meals stayed relatively stable at 87.1%.

Statewide, diverse students lagged behind white students, but they saw the most improvement from previous years.

A Minnesota Department of Education press release said that all racial and ethnic groups improved with black students' graduation rate at 67.4%, up from 60.2% in 2014. Hispanic students' rate raised from 63.2% to 66.8% and, overall, there was a 15% reduction in the gap between nonwhite and white students.

"I am proud that the graduation gap is closing, but I am not satisfied," said DOE Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker, in the press release. "As we move forward, I am eager to partner with communities across our state to better support all of our students."

The state set a graduation rate goal of 90% by 2020, in 2018, with the goal of no single student group being below 85%.

More statewide and Hastings-specific data is available on the Minnesota Department of Education's Minnesota Report Card website.