Graduation rates for Charlotte and Sarasota counties slipped in 2019, while DeSoto County had its best results in years, according to state data released last week.

Overall, Florida’s class of 2019 posted a graduation rate of 86.9%, an increase of 0.8 percentage points from the previous year, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Graduation numbers, both statewide and locally, have increased significantly over the past 15 years. The statewide rate in 2003-2004 was 59.2%, a difference of 26.7 percentage points compared to 2018-2019.

“Today’s results show that more Florida students than ever are positioning themselves for success after high school,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran in a news release.

Gov. Ron DeSantis applauded the hard work of students, parents and educators, while noting there’s room for improvement.

“While these results are a positive mark of Florida’s upward progress, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent,” he said. “We must continue striving for educational excellence and making Florida the number one state in the nation for education.”

Locally, Sarasota exceeded the state average, while Charlotte sagged just beneath it.

Local numbers

Charlotte County: The rate dipped more than a percentage point, from last year’s five-year high of 87.6% to 86.4%.

Still, Charlotte’s numbers generally show improvement. This year’s number is the second-highest of the past five years. The grad rate in Charlotte increased nearly 11 points since 2014-15.

“We are always disappointed when any score goes down but still very proud of a graduation rate that sits at 86%,” said Charlotte County Public Schools spokesperson Michael Riley. “We have and will continue to put things in place to continue to positively impact our graduation rate.”

The district’s 2018-2019 graduation rate falls just under the state’s overall rate by .5%. Florida Southwestern Collegiate High School showed the highest rate of graduation, followed by Charlotte Virtual Franchise, Lemon Bay High School, Charlotte High School and Port Charlotte High School.

“It is our belief that an improved graduation rate is foundationally rooted with high levels of learning in the academic core areas, established positive and safe learning environments, and the development of well-rounded students through opportunity to engage in a variety of learning experiences and content,” Riley said.

The additional 30 minutes to the school day that started this school year means more time for school leaders, teachers, and support staff to remediate, enrich, and accelerate student achievement, he said.

“In addition, literacy and math coaches have been added to all school levels (elementary, middle, and high) to assist with struggling,” Riley said. “Providing our students with increased opportunities to explore options based on skills, interests, and aspirations promotes a stronger commitment to learning and to meet goals that we set for our students that they in turn embrace as their own.”

More mental health professionals who are in the schools also helps “to ensure learning environments that are positive, fulfilling, and encouraging, to keep our students in school and engaged in their learning,” he said.

DeSoto County: There was a jump of more than 10 points in a single year, from 60.9% to 71.3%. DeSoto’s rate had hovered around the low 60s for the past several years.

Meanwhile, the DeSoto County High School graduation rate also improved significantly by 8.27% — elevating to 77.1%.

DeSoto County Schools Superintendent Adrian Cline said the improvement was a team effort, but added “we will continue our work to improve this graduation rate.”

Cline laid out what they did, which factored into this improved graduation rate:

• Assigned each counselor a class, and required each student had a portfolio that was reviewed with the counselor, assuring the student was on track to graduate.

• The graduation coach paid specific attention to seniors who were bordering below a 2.0 or not meeting state testing requirements to graduate.

• Assigned seniors in jeopardy of graduating to volunteer teachers, counselors, and administrators who mentored and watched over their student(s) to make sure they stayed on track. The mentoring program affected approximately 60 seniors.

• There was a continuous examination of data to make sure all students were included.

• Counselors and ESE staff arranged college visits for students to tour college campuses and improve motivation to pursue post-secondary education, through college and vocational programs.

Sarasota County: A very slight dip, from 89.8% to 89.4% year-to-year. Overall, Sarasota’s rate has increased 10 points in the past five years.

Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler said the district will analyze what caused the decrease.

“We need to take a hard look at narrowing in at that 0.4%,” she said. “It may not sound huge, but there are human beings attached to that.”

Ziegler added the graduation rate is just one metric for measuring success, but it’s an important one.

“It doesn’t tell the entire story, but we always need to continue to strive to do better and learn from any areas we haven’t succeeded in.”

Pine View School in Osprey had the top graduation rate for Sarasota School District at 100%. Imagine School at North Port had a slightly higher graduation rate than Venice High School and North Port High School.

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