District celebrates graduation rate leap

  • Palatka High School graduates listen to the keynote speaker during their belated commencement ceremony in August.
    Palatka High School graduates listen to the keynote speaker during their belated commencement ceremony in August.
  • Positively Putnam FL
    Positively Putnam FL

The Putnam County School District has achieved a 90.1% graduation rate for the 2019-2020 school year, a smidgen over the state average, the state Department of Education reported this week.

The graduation rate marks a 3.8 percentage point jump from the 2018-2019 school year. The district’s graduation rate was 84.8% for the 2017-2018 school year; 72.2% for the 2016-2017 school year; and 63.6% for the 2015-2016 school year. The graduation rate teetered around 55% in the 2014-2015 school year.

The gradual rise is not lost on Superintendent Rick Surrency, who said hitting the 90% graduation rate mark was the district’s five-year goal. Putnam is now ranked 34th out of the state’s 67 school districts. The district’s graduation rate was ranked 66 out of 67 five years ago.

Among neighboring counties, St. Johns County and Clay County achieved a 94.8% and 93.4% graduation rate, respectively. Flagler County had a graduation rate of 92.2%, Bradford County stood at 88.2% and Volusia County was at 87.7%.

Surrency said the initiative is driven by high expectations and clear goals. Teachers and administrators then followed through at the school level. Consistency and continuity with graduates are the goals moving forward, Surrency said.

He said he was proud of the class of 2020, whose graduation ceremonies were in August due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was so happy for those graduates to be able to walk across that stage because they earned that,” Surrency said.

According to the state Department of Education, the cohort graduation rate measures the percentage of students graduating within four years of first enrolling in ninth grade.

The state’s graduation rate was 90%, up from 86.9% in 2018-2019. A decade ago, the statewide graduation rate was 69%.

Crescent City High has shown the most improvement over five years. The school’s graduation rate in 2015 was 51.1% and is now 93.9%. Principal John Shelby said he couldn’t be prouder of the rise. 

“Our teachers embrace the individual support students need to achieve their goal to graduate high school. Our students, faculty, staff and families have bought into our vision to empower our learning community for opportunities after graduation,” Shelby said. “The students now see themselves as high school graduates before their senior year and look beyond that milestone to prepare themselves for a successful life.” 

Interlachen High School’s graduation rate is 94% and Palatka High’s graduation rate is 89%. Q.I. Roberts Junior-Senior High School graduated all 65 of its eligible students.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Laura France said she is elated to exceed the district’s graduation goals. She said the high graduation rate will yield economic gains in the county.

“When we initially wrote that initiative, the five-year goal was supposed to be 80% we were aiming for,” France said. “We bumped it up in 2018.”

The first step was getting to or above the state graduation rate average, France said. The plan was ambitious, she said, and now the district will evaluate expectations and systems to assist students with college and career readiness.

The effect the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the graduation rate of the class of 2021 is unclear. France and Surrency said the district is tracking students and monitoring progress to uphold the 90.1% mark.

“Keeping it that high will be a challenge, but we are going to do everything we can to make sure our students are successful,” France said.


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