Maricopa graduation rates higher than falling state average

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With Arizona graduation rates declining, Maricopa High School has seen a rise in both total graduation and minority graduation rates.

“Our goal is for Maricopa High School to be an A school,” Maricopa Unified School District Superintendent Steve Chestnut said. “One of the things that we are working on to make that happen is to improve our graduation rate, and we are making progress on that issue.”

According to statistics recently released by the U.S. Department of Education, Arizona is one of only four states that have seen their graduation rates fall since the 2010-11 school year. The most recent numbers are from 2013.

Across the nation, total graduation rates have risen by 1 percent, and minority graduation rates have risen by nearly 4. Arizona, however, had a decline of 3 percent in both categories from 2011 to 2013.

Unlike the state average, Maricopa High School has seen a 1.6 percent increase in its total graduation rate since the 2010-11 school year. The school has also seen a 6.3 percent rise in African-American graduation rates, and 1.2 percent rise in Hispanic graduation rates. The Asian student body increased its graduation rate by 13.2 percent.

Despite the overall success, MHS saw a decrease among some groups. The white student body saw a 3.1 percent decrease in its graduation rate. There was also a 26 percent decrease in the graduation rate for “students with disabilities,” and a 2.4 percent decrease for students found to be at an “economic disadvantage.” Males saw their rate decrease by 5.1 percent, but females rose 11.5.

MHS is working to do more to improve its graduation and dropout rates.

“We are doing several things to improve the graduation rate,” Chestnut said. “For the past two years we have offered additional remedial math classes at MHS to assist students. Two years ago we began working with the company Graduation Alliance. This company reconnects with MHS dropouts and enrolls them in an online program so they can complete their MHS diplomas. We have had three students earn their diplomas with Graduation Alliance, and one student has completed a GED.”

Student population has continued to grow, as has diversity on campus.

The white population makes up 41.3 percent of the student body. The Hispanic population makes up 31.5 percent, and the African-American population makes up 17.9 percent. A small but growing portion is the Asian population at 3.7 percent.

“We are fortunate enough to have teachers who are sensitive and understanding of different cultures,” Maricopa High School Principal June Celaya said. “We also have a diverse staff here. It is really helpful for the students to have a positive role model who understands them and they connect with.”

Locally, Sequoia Pathway Academy had the highest increase in their graduation rate. The Maricopa charter school climbed from a 21.05 percent graduation rate to  50 percent since the 2010-11 school year. The 28.95 percent increase was one of the largest gains in the county. However, the rate of 50 percent is still one of the lowest.

Overall, both Maricopa schools did well in comparison to the other schools in Pinal County (which decreased in nearly every demographic). The county saw a 3.2 percent decrease in Native American rates, 1.9 percent decrease in Hispanic rates, 2.9 percent decrease in African-American rates, 5.5 percent decrease in student claiming multiple races, and a 0.4 percent decrease in white student graduation rates.

The only demographics where the county saw an increase were the Asian students, who rose of 6.8 percent, and female students, who saw an increase of 2.9 percent. The increase in the population of each of these demographics is a key element in the county as a whole staying even at 70.8 percent.

In comparison to the other schools within Pinal County, Maricopa High School saw the ninth highest increase in graduation rates, while Sequoia Pathway Academy saw the second. Of the 26 schools in Pinal County, 13 saw a decrease in their graduation rates.

***ADVERTISEMENT***In comparison to the rest of the state, Maricopa High School is seeing a positive trend in graduation rates. The rise in minority graduation rates at MHS were some of the highest in Arizona. There is still quite a ways to go before reaching their goal of becoming an A district, but MUSD has taken a big step.

“We have a great partnership with the city,” Celaya said. “We have great teachers, coaches, parent volunteers, and business support from the community. This city has embraced our school. The ‘village’ is really what grows the positive change.”