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Our View: Work remains on grad rates

Graduation rates in Duluth and across Minnesota that barely budged last year are reason for concern. They are another reminder, too: Our schools can be doing more and can be doing better.

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Cameron Cardow/Cagle Cartoons

Graduation rates in Duluth and across Minnesota that barely budged last year are reason for concern. They are another reminder, too: Our schools can be doing more and can be doing better.

But so can we as communities when it comes to helping our kids. In particular, so can parents.

There's plenty of responsibility to be taken for a statewide four-year graduation rate that moved just .2 percent to 82.7 percent from 2016 to 2017. In Duluth the increase was a barely noticeable single percentage point, from 75 percent to 76 percent. Even more troubling for us up north: Duluth's graduation rate is 6.7 percent below the statewide average.

Further, large gaps remain between white students and students of color when it comes to high schoolers graduating on time. "While 88 percent of white students received a diploma in four years, just 65 percent of black students and 51 percent of American Indian and Alaskan Native students did," Minnesota Public Radio reported last week when the newest numbers were released by the Minnesota Department of Education.

"There is still work to do," Amy Starzecki, assistant superintendent of the Duluth public schools, said in an interview with the News Tribune in response to the numbers.

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Starzecki said success being made at Denfeld can be attributed in part to a grant-funded program for special-education students who are black or Native American. Through the 3-year-old program, mentors monitor attendance, grades, and behavior. Other programs focus on relationship-building.

"In general, the sense when I am there is how important relationships are with students and educators," Starzecki said. "That's the common thread."

That's also everyone pulling together to make a difference. The approach and the attitude can be emulated.

While modest, "graduation rates have continued to climb and gaps are narrowing (statewide)," Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a statement. "(Nonetheless), we have too many students who are not receiving a diploma. ... We have so much more work to do to ensure all children have equitable opportunities and receive the support they need in order to graduate on time and (be) ready for life."

Support has to come not only from schools and school districts, but from our communities also. All of us pulling together. And parents are perhaps in the best position of anyone to have the strongest positive impact.

Minnesota's education accountability plan, recently approved by the federal government, is ambitious: a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020 with no single student group's rate below 85 percent. Working together, it can happen.

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