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Despite growth, Duluth graduation rate slips

In 2016, one in four Duluth school district seniors didn't earn a diploma after four years, according to annual data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education.

2902494+School Board 1.jpg
The Duluth School Board removed from its agenda Tuesday night a discussion about whether to meet with officials from Many Rivers Montessori regarding a potential building sale. (file photo / News Tribune)

In 2016, one in four Duluth school district seniors didn't earn a diploma after four years, according to annual data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education.
Despite little movement in the three Duluth high school graduation rates, the district's cumulative rate of 74 percent was a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. That's because of increased enrollment in the district's alternative high school that serves at-risk students, and an increase in the number of students there that didn't graduate. To address the rate in Duluth, which has been consistently less than 80 percent, the district has sharpened its focus. Things like more career and technical education courses, an examination of special education programs in the secondary schools and dropout prevention groups for at-risk freshmen are all part of that effort, said Amy Starzecki, assistant superintendent. Narrowing achievement gaps is the district's first priority, she said. The district has also benefited from a state grant aimed at improving performances and reducing dropout rates of black and Native American students who receive special education services. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178072","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"460","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We have to keep doing work and doing that work better," Starzecki said. Across the state, 82.2 percent of students graduated in four years. The Duluth district slightly narrowed achievement gaps between black and Native American students and white students. Both black and Native American student populations - with less than half of each graduating in 2016 - have had persistently low numbers of graduates. While there is growth with some groups, Starzecki said, those low numbers are "not where we want to be as a district." [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178073","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"327","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We want that growth to happen faster, but our work is to continue to move the needle, and that's what we're focused on," she said. The Duluth district is below the state graduation average for just about every student group, including white, black, Native American, poor and special education. The graduation rates of those groups in Duluth, except for Native Americans, decreased in 2016, while statewide, the trend continued to tick upward. The state has seen an increase in graduation rates and a decrease in gaps, particularly in the last five years, said education commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a news release. "This has happened at the same time that we have shifted to more rigorous career-and college-ready standards, and added challenging courses to our graduation requirements," she said. "This is precisely the right path we need to stay on." She noted that students of color and Native American students need to "move faster," with schools increasing efforts "to help every student earn a diploma." Minnesota, which has struggled with one of the worst achievement gaps in the country, has a goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.   Other districts [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178074","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"311","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Hermantown had a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, with 149 of 151 students earning a diploma in 2016. Superintendent Kerry Juntunen credited an alternative learning program that helps at-risk kids stay on track, "great family structure," and staff building-wide who have strong relationships with kids. "It really does make a difference," Juntunen said. When asked whether the low level of poverty in the district played a part, he said the indicator used - how many kids take part in the federal free or reduced price lunch program - wasn't an inclusive measure. "You'd be surprised at the level of poverty," he said, that exists in the district. Eleven percent of Hermantown High School students take part in the lunch program, while 55 percent of Denfeld High School students do, for example. Denfeld's graduation rate is 76 percent. Poverty plays a major role in forming achievement gaps, and in hampering efforts to close them. Elsewhere in the region, Harbor City International School, Proctor, Lake Superior, St. Louis County and Esko school districts trended up, and Carlton and Hibbing trended down. Cloquet, notably, has a 71.4 percent graduation rate for Native American students, compared to the state's 52.6 percent and Duluth's 36.5 percent.In 2016, one in four Duluth school district seniors didn't earn a diploma after four years, according to annual data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178071","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"457","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Despite little movement in the three Duluth high school graduation rates, the district's cumulative rate of 74 percent was a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. That's because of increased enrollment in the district's alternative high school that serves at-risk students, and an increase in the number of students there that didn't graduate. To address the rate in Duluth, which has been consistently less than 80 percent, the district has sharpened its focus. Things like more career and technical education courses, an examination of special education programs in the secondary schools and dropout prevention groups for at-risk freshmen are all part of that effort, said Amy Starzecki, assistant superintendent. Narrowing achievement gaps is the district's first priority, she said. The district has also benefited from a state grant aimed at improving performances and reducing dropout rates of black and Native American students who receive special education services.
"We have to keep doing work and doing that work better," Starzecki said. Across the state, 82.2 percent of students graduated in four years. The Duluth district slightly narrowed achievement gaps between black and Native American students and white students. Both black and Native American student populations - with less than half of each graduating in 2016 - have had persistently low numbers of graduates. While there is growth with some groups, Starzecki said, those low numbers are "not where we want to be as a district." [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178073","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"327","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We want that growth to happen faster, but our work is to continue to move the needle, and that's what we're focused on," she said. The Duluth district is below the state graduation average for just about every student group, including white, black, Native American, poor and special education. The graduation rates of those groups in Duluth, except for Native Americans, decreased in 2016, while statewide, the trend continued to tick upward. The state has seen an increase in graduation rates and a decrease in gaps, particularly in the last five years, said education commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a news release. "This has happened at the same time that we have shifted to more rigorous career-and college-ready standards, and added challenging courses to our graduation requirements," she said. "This is precisely the right path we need to stay on." She noted that students of color and Native American students need to "move faster," with schools increasing efforts "to help every student earn a diploma." Minnesota, which has struggled with one of the worst achievement gaps in the country, has a goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.   Other districts [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178074","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"311","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Hermantown had a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, with 149 of 151 students earning a diploma in 2016. Superintendent Kerry Juntunen credited an alternative learning program that helps at-risk kids stay on track, "great family structure," and staff building-wide who have strong relationships with kids. "It really does make a difference," Juntunen said. When asked whether the low level of poverty in the district played a part, he said the indicator used - how many kids take part in the federal free or reduced price lunch program - wasn't an inclusive measure. "You'd be surprised at the level of poverty," he said, that exists in the district. Eleven percent of Hermantown High School students take part in the lunch program, while 55 percent of Denfeld High School students do, for example. Denfeld's graduation rate is 76 percent. Poverty plays a major role in forming achievement gaps, and in hampering efforts to close them. Elsewhere in the region, Harbor City International School, Proctor, Lake Superior, St. Louis County and Esko school districts trended up, and Carlton and Hibbing trended down. Cloquet, notably, has a 71.4 percent graduation rate for Native American students, compared to the state's 52.6 percent and Duluth's 36.5 percent.In 2016, one in four Duluth school district seniors didn't earn a diploma after four years, according to annual data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178071","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"457","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Despite little movement in the three Duluth high school graduation rates, the district's cumulative rate of 74 percent was a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. That's because of increased enrollment in the district's alternative high school that serves at-risk students, and an increase in the number of students there that didn't graduate. To address the rate in Duluth, which has been consistently less than 80 percent, the district has sharpened its focus. Things like more career and technical education courses, an examination of special education programs in the secondary schools and dropout prevention groups for at-risk freshmen are all part of that effort, said Amy Starzecki, assistant superintendent. Narrowing achievement gaps is the district's first priority, she said. The district has also benefited from a state grant aimed at improving performances and reducing dropout rates of black and Native American students who receive special education services. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178072","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"460","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We have to keep doing work and doing that work better," Starzecki said. Across the state, 82.2 percent of students graduated in four years. The Duluth district slightly narrowed achievement gaps between black and Native American students and white students. Both black and Native American student populations - with less than half of each graduating in 2016 - have had persistently low numbers of graduates. While there is growth with some groups, Starzecki said, those low numbers are "not where we want to be as a district."
"We want that growth to happen faster, but our work is to continue to move the needle, and that's what we're focused on," she said. The Duluth district is below the state graduation average for just about every student group, including white, black, Native American, poor and special education. The graduation rates of those groups in Duluth, except for Native Americans, decreased in 2016, while statewide, the trend continued to tick upward. The state has seen an increase in graduation rates and a decrease in gaps, particularly in the last five years, said education commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a news release. "This has happened at the same time that we have shifted to more rigorous career-and college-ready standards, and added challenging courses to our graduation requirements," she said. "This is precisely the right path we need to stay on." She noted that students of color and Native American students need to "move faster," with schools increasing efforts "to help every student earn a diploma." Minnesota, which has struggled with one of the worst achievement gaps in the country, has a goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.   Other districts [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178074","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"311","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Hermantown had a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, with 149 of 151 students earning a diploma in 2016. Superintendent Kerry Juntunen credited an alternative learning program that helps at-risk kids stay on track, "great family structure," and staff building-wide who have strong relationships with kids. "It really does make a difference," Juntunen said. When asked whether the low level of poverty in the district played a part, he said the indicator used - how many kids take part in the federal free or reduced price lunch program - wasn't an inclusive measure. "You'd be surprised at the level of poverty," he said, that exists in the district. Eleven percent of Hermantown High School students take part in the lunch program, while 55 percent of Denfeld High School students do, for example. Denfeld's graduation rate is 76 percent. Poverty plays a major role in forming achievement gaps, and in hampering efforts to close them. Elsewhere in the region, Harbor City International School, Proctor, Lake Superior, St. Louis County and Esko school districts trended up, and Carlton and Hibbing trended down. Cloquet, notably, has a 71.4 percent graduation rate for Native American students, compared to the state's 52.6 percent and Duluth's 36.5 percent.In 2016, one in four Duluth school district seniors didn't earn a diploma after four years, according to annual data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178071","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"457","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Despite little movement in the three Duluth high school graduation rates, the district's cumulative rate of 74 percent was a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. That's because of increased enrollment in the district's alternative high school that serves at-risk students, and an increase in the number of students there that didn't graduate. To address the rate in Duluth, which has been consistently less than 80 percent, the district has sharpened its focus. Things like more career and technical education courses, an examination of special education programs in the secondary schools and dropout prevention groups for at-risk freshmen are all part of that effort, said Amy Starzecki, assistant superintendent. Narrowing achievement gaps is the district's first priority, she said. The district has also benefited from a state grant aimed at improving performances and reducing dropout rates of black and Native American students who receive special education services. [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178072","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"460","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We have to keep doing work and doing that work better," Starzecki said. Across the state, 82.2 percent of students graduated in four years. The Duluth district slightly narrowed achievement gaps between black and Native American students and white students. Both black and Native American student populations - with less than half of each graduating in 2016 - have had persistently low numbers of graduates. While there is growth with some groups, Starzecki said, those low numbers are "not where we want to be as a district." [[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178073","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"327","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We want that growth to happen faster, but our work is to continue to move the needle, and that's what we're focused on," she said. The Duluth district is below the state graduation average for just about every student group, including white, black, Native American, poor and special education. The graduation rates of those groups in Duluth, except for Native Americans, decreased in 2016, while statewide, the trend continued to tick upward. The state has seen an increase in graduation rates and a decrease in gaps, particularly in the last five years, said education commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a news release. "This has happened at the same time that we have shifted to more rigorous career-and college-ready standards, and added challenging courses to our graduation requirements," she said. "This is precisely the right path we need to stay on." She noted that students of color and Native American students need to "move faster," with schools increasing efforts "to help every student earn a diploma." Minnesota, which has struggled with one of the worst achievement gaps in the country, has a goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.   Other districts
Hermantown had a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, with 149 of 151 students earning a diploma in 2016. Superintendent Kerry Juntunen credited an alternative learning program that helps at-risk kids stay on track, "great family structure," and staff building-wide who have strong relationships with kids. "It really does make a difference," Juntunen said. When asked whether the low level of poverty in the district played a part, he said the indicator used - how many kids take part in the federal free or reduced price lunch program - wasn't an inclusive measure. "You'd be surprised at the level of poverty," he said, that exists in the district. Eleven percent of Hermantown High School students take part in the lunch program, while 55 percent of Denfeld High School students do, for example. Denfeld's graduation rate is 76 percent. Poverty plays a major role in forming achievement gaps, and in hampering efforts to close them. Elsewhere in the region, Harbor City International School, Proctor, Lake Superior, St. Louis County and Esko school districts trended up, and Carlton and Hibbing trended down. Cloquet, notably, has a 71.4 percent graduation rate for Native American students, compared to the state's 52.6 percent and Duluth's 36.5 percent.In 2016, one in four Duluth school district seniors didn't earn a diploma after four years, according to annual data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education.
Despite little movement in the three Duluth high school graduation rates, the district's cumulative rate of 74 percent was a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. That's because of increased enrollment in the district's alternative high school that serves at-risk students, and an increase in the number of students there that didn't graduate.To address the rate in Duluth, which has been consistently less than 80 percent, the district has sharpened its focus. Things like more career and technical education courses, an examination of special education programs in the secondary schools and dropout prevention groups for at-risk freshmen are all part of that effort, said Amy Starzecki, assistant superintendent. Narrowing achievement gaps is the district's first priority, she said.The district has also benefited from a state grant aimed at improving performances and reducing dropout rates of black and Native American students who receive special education services.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178072","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"460","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We have to keep doing work and doing that work better," Starzecki said.Across the state, 82.2 percent of students graduated in four years.The Duluth district slightly narrowed achievement gaps between black and Native American students and white students. Both black and Native American student populations - with less than half of each graduating in 2016 - have had persistently low numbers of graduates. While there is growth with some groups, Starzecki said, those low numbers are "not where we want to be as a district."[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178073","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"327","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We want that growth to happen faster, but our work is to continue to move the needle, and that's what we're focused on," she said.The Duluth district is below the state graduation average for just about every student group, including white, black, Native American, poor and special education. The graduation rates of those groups in Duluth, except for Native Americans, decreased in 2016, while statewide, the trend continued to tick upward.The state has seen an increase in graduation rates and a decrease in gaps, particularly in the last five years, said education commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a news release."This has happened at the same time that we have shifted to more rigorous career-and college-ready standards, and added challenging courses to our graduation requirements," she said. "This is precisely the right path we need to stay on."She noted that students of color and Native American students need to "move faster," with schools increasing efforts "to help every student earn a diploma." Minnesota, which has struggled with one of the worst achievement gaps in the country, has a goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Other districts[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178074","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"311","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Hermantown had a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, with 149 of 151 students earning a diploma in 2016. Superintendent Kerry Juntunen credited an alternative learning program that helps at-risk kids stay on track, "great family structure," and staff building-wide who have strong relationships with kids."It really does make a difference," Juntunen said.When asked whether the low level of poverty in the district played a part, he said the indicator used - how many kids take part in the federal free or reduced price lunch program - wasn't an inclusive measure."You'd be surprised at the level of poverty," he said, that exists in the district.Eleven percent of Hermantown High School students take part in the lunch program, while 55 percent of Denfeld High School students do, for example. Denfeld's graduation rate is 76 percent.Poverty plays a major role in forming achievement gaps, and in hampering efforts to close them.Elsewhere in the region, Harbor City International School, Proctor, Lake Superior, St. Louis County and Esko school districts trended up, and Carlton and Hibbing trended down. Cloquet, notably, has a 71.4 percent graduation rate for Native American students, compared to the state's 52.6 percent and Duluth's 36.5 percent.In 2016, one in four Duluth school district seniors didn't earn a diploma after four years, according to annual data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178071","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"457","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Despite little movement in the three Duluth high school graduation rates, the district's cumulative rate of 74 percent was a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. That's because of increased enrollment in the district's alternative high school that serves at-risk students, and an increase in the number of students there that didn't graduate.To address the rate in Duluth, which has been consistently less than 80 percent, the district has sharpened its focus. Things like more career and technical education courses, an examination of special education programs in the secondary schools and dropout prevention groups for at-risk freshmen are all part of that effort, said Amy Starzecki, assistant superintendent. Narrowing achievement gaps is the district's first priority, she said.The district has also benefited from a state grant aimed at improving performances and reducing dropout rates of black and Native American students who receive special education services.
"We have to keep doing work and doing that work better," Starzecki said.Across the state, 82.2 percent of students graduated in four years.The Duluth district slightly narrowed achievement gaps between black and Native American students and white students. Both black and Native American student populations - with less than half of each graduating in 2016 - have had persistently low numbers of graduates. While there is growth with some groups, Starzecki said, those low numbers are "not where we want to be as a district."[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178073","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"327","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We want that growth to happen faster, but our work is to continue to move the needle, and that's what we're focused on," she said.The Duluth district is below the state graduation average for just about every student group, including white, black, Native American, poor and special education. The graduation rates of those groups in Duluth, except for Native Americans, decreased in 2016, while statewide, the trend continued to tick upward.The state has seen an increase in graduation rates and a decrease in gaps, particularly in the last five years, said education commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a news release."This has happened at the same time that we have shifted to more rigorous career-and college-ready standards, and added challenging courses to our graduation requirements," she said. "This is precisely the right path we need to stay on."She noted that students of color and Native American students need to "move faster," with schools increasing efforts "to help every student earn a diploma." Minnesota, which has struggled with one of the worst achievement gaps in the country, has a goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Other districts[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178074","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"311","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Hermantown had a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, with 149 of 151 students earning a diploma in 2016. Superintendent Kerry Juntunen credited an alternative learning program that helps at-risk kids stay on track, "great family structure," and staff building-wide who have strong relationships with kids."It really does make a difference," Juntunen said.When asked whether the low level of poverty in the district played a part, he said the indicator used - how many kids take part in the federal free or reduced price lunch program - wasn't an inclusive measure."You'd be surprised at the level of poverty," he said, that exists in the district.Eleven percent of Hermantown High School students take part in the lunch program, while 55 percent of Denfeld High School students do, for example. Denfeld's graduation rate is 76 percent.Poverty plays a major role in forming achievement gaps, and in hampering efforts to close them.Elsewhere in the region, Harbor City International School, Proctor, Lake Superior, St. Louis County and Esko school districts trended up, and Carlton and Hibbing trended down. Cloquet, notably, has a 71.4 percent graduation rate for Native American students, compared to the state's 52.6 percent and Duluth's 36.5 percent.In 2016, one in four Duluth school district seniors didn't earn a diploma after four years, according to annual data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178071","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"457","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Despite little movement in the three Duluth high school graduation rates, the district's cumulative rate of 74 percent was a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. That's because of increased enrollment in the district's alternative high school that serves at-risk students, and an increase in the number of students there that didn't graduate.To address the rate in Duluth, which has been consistently less than 80 percent, the district has sharpened its focus. Things like more career and technical education courses, an examination of special education programs in the secondary schools and dropout prevention groups for at-risk freshmen are all part of that effort, said Amy Starzecki, assistant superintendent. Narrowing achievement gaps is the district's first priority, she said.The district has also benefited from a state grant aimed at improving performances and reducing dropout rates of black and Native American students who receive special education services.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178072","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"460","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We have to keep doing work and doing that work better," Starzecki said.Across the state, 82.2 percent of students graduated in four years.The Duluth district slightly narrowed achievement gaps between black and Native American students and white students. Both black and Native American student populations - with less than half of each graduating in 2016 - have had persistently low numbers of graduates. While there is growth with some groups, Starzecki said, those low numbers are "not where we want to be as a district."
"We want that growth to happen faster, but our work is to continue to move the needle, and that's what we're focused on," she said.The Duluth district is below the state graduation average for just about every student group, including white, black, Native American, poor and special education. The graduation rates of those groups in Duluth, except for Native Americans, decreased in 2016, while statewide, the trend continued to tick upward.The state has seen an increase in graduation rates and a decrease in gaps, particularly in the last five years, said education commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a news release."This has happened at the same time that we have shifted to more rigorous career-and college-ready standards, and added challenging courses to our graduation requirements," she said. "This is precisely the right path we need to stay on."She noted that students of color and Native American students need to "move faster," with schools increasing efforts "to help every student earn a diploma." Minnesota, which has struggled with one of the worst achievement gaps in the country, has a goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Other districts[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178074","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"311","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Hermantown had a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, with 149 of 151 students earning a diploma in 2016. Superintendent Kerry Juntunen credited an alternative learning program that helps at-risk kids stay on track, "great family structure," and staff building-wide who have strong relationships with kids."It really does make a difference," Juntunen said.When asked whether the low level of poverty in the district played a part, he said the indicator used - how many kids take part in the federal free or reduced price lunch program - wasn't an inclusive measure."You'd be surprised at the level of poverty," he said, that exists in the district.Eleven percent of Hermantown High School students take part in the lunch program, while 55 percent of Denfeld High School students do, for example. Denfeld's graduation rate is 76 percent.Poverty plays a major role in forming achievement gaps, and in hampering efforts to close them.Elsewhere in the region, Harbor City International School, Proctor, Lake Superior, St. Louis County and Esko school districts trended up, and Carlton and Hibbing trended down. Cloquet, notably, has a 71.4 percent graduation rate for Native American students, compared to the state's 52.6 percent and Duluth's 36.5 percent.In 2016, one in four Duluth school district seniors didn't earn a diploma after four years, according to annual data released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Education.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178071","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"457","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Despite little movement in the three Duluth high school graduation rates, the district's cumulative rate of 74 percent was a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. That's because of increased enrollment in the district's alternative high school that serves at-risk students, and an increase in the number of students there that didn't graduate.To address the rate in Duluth, which has been consistently less than 80 percent, the district has sharpened its focus. Things like more career and technical education courses, an examination of special education programs in the secondary schools and dropout prevention groups for at-risk freshmen are all part of that effort, said Amy Starzecki, assistant superintendent. Narrowing achievement gaps is the district's first priority, she said.The district has also benefited from a state grant aimed at improving performances and reducing dropout rates of black and Native American students who receive special education services.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178072","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"460","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We have to keep doing work and doing that work better," Starzecki said.Across the state, 82.2 percent of students graduated in four years.The Duluth district slightly narrowed achievement gaps between black and Native American students and white students. Both black and Native American student populations - with less than half of each graduating in 2016 - have had persistently low numbers of graduates. While there is growth with some groups, Starzecki said, those low numbers are "not where we want to be as a district."[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"3178073","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"327","title":"","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]"We want that growth to happen faster, but our work is to continue to move the needle, and that's what we're focused on," she said.The Duluth district is below the state graduation average for just about every student group, including white, black, Native American, poor and special education. The graduation rates of those groups in Duluth, except for Native Americans, decreased in 2016, while statewide, the trend continued to tick upward.The state has seen an increase in graduation rates and a decrease in gaps, particularly in the last five years, said education commissioner Brenda Cassellius in a news release."This has happened at the same time that we have shifted to more rigorous career-and college-ready standards, and added challenging courses to our graduation requirements," she said. "This is precisely the right path we need to stay on."She noted that students of color and Native American students need to "move faster," with schools increasing efforts "to help every student earn a diploma." Minnesota, which has struggled with one of the worst achievement gaps in the country, has a goal of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. Other districts
Hermantown had a nearly 100 percent graduation rate, with 149 of 151 students earning a diploma in 2016. Superintendent Kerry Juntunen credited an alternative learning program that helps at-risk kids stay on track, "great family structure," and staff building-wide who have strong relationships with kids."It really does make a difference," Juntunen said.When asked whether the low level of poverty in the district played a part, he said the indicator used - how many kids take part in the federal free or reduced price lunch program - wasn't an inclusive measure."You'd be surprised at the level of poverty," he said, that exists in the district.Eleven percent of Hermantown High School students take part in the lunch program, while 55 percent of Denfeld High School students do, for example. Denfeld's graduation rate is 76 percent.Poverty plays a major role in forming achievement gaps, and in hampering efforts to close them.Elsewhere in the region, Harbor City International School, Proctor, Lake Superior, St. Louis County and Esko school districts trended up, and Carlton and Hibbing trended down. Cloquet, notably, has a 71.4 percent graduation rate for Native American students, compared to the state's 52.6 percent and Duluth's 36.5 percent.

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