By Keith Jacobus, South Washington County Schools superintendent

My wife and I recently welcomed a grandson into our family. It has been wonderful to be around a baby again and to watch the amazing developmental milestones and processes taking place. My youngest child is now 17 and I had forgotten how fast things change with an infant. As we approach the end of the year, we are celebrating many accomplishments. From now until the last day of school, we have awards ceremonies highlighting the many accomplishments our students have achieved throughout the school year and their educational careers. A culminating milestone for our PreK-12 system is high school graduation. Like any milestone, there is some variation on when all students will complete the graduation requirements and embark on their journey toward adulthood and a career choice.

Recently, the Minnesota Department of Education released the 2018 graduation rates. These rates reflect the four-year cohort of students who completed the graduation requirements in the typical four years. This year, our district had 1,276 students graduate within the four-year window - a rate of 92.08%. Our students in the class of 2018 also graduated in four years at a higher rate than their peers, statewide, in all of the groups of students identified by MDE including: Asian, Hispanic, black and white students as well as students who have two or more races. While we continue to be well above the state average of 83.20%, we are continuing our work to ensure all of our students graduate on time.

In 2018, East Ridge High School had a graduation rate of 96.27%, Park High School had a graduation rate of 91.55%, and Woodbury High School had a graduation rate of 96.51%. Both Park and Woodbury high schools saw a slight increase in the graduation rates from 2017 to 2018.

East Ridge High School and Woodbury High School are also ranked in the top 10 for graduation rates of Minnesota schools with graduating classes above 300 students. Woodbury High School ranked eighth and East Ridge is ranked 10th.

Our district graduation rate also includes South Washington Alternative High School, which had a four-year graduation rate of 39.13% for the class of 2018. Students who choose to attend our alternative high school program do so for a variety of reasons as our students seek a path to graduation that works best for them. In some cases, students who attend the alternative high school have gotten behind in graduation credits and our alternative high school staff does outstanding work to help these students complete their diploma. However, this does not always happen in four years. Therefore, although the four-year rate is low, it does not indicate a lack of success by these students in their academic pursuits or a lower success rate of the teaching staff.

It is important to note that a graduation rate of 92.08% does not mean that 7.92% of our students dropped out and will not graduate. The graduation rate is only calculated for the first four years of a student's high school career. There are a number of reasons a student may get behind on credits and not finish in four years. Illness, family issues and a variety of other problems may make a four-year time frame impossible. We continue to work with students to complete their graduation requirement long after the four-year window has closed. Some students complete their requirements in the summer after their senior year, some come back for a fifth, sixth or seventh year. We also offer a high school diploma for adults of any age. So while we strive to help kids complete high school on time, we realize as a milestone there may be some variation in when a student finishes high school. We will never give up on them and will work to help them reach that important educational milestone.

For those of you who have a senior this year who will be graduating, congratulations! We know our success as a school district and helping students reach their high school graduation would not happen without the support of our parents, guardians and community members and we are grateful to be able to share the joy of this wonderful milestone.