CLEARWATER — High school graduation rates for the 2012-13 school year show that a few more students are earning their diplomas in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, but maintaining numbers is hardly cause for celebration, Pinellas Schools Superintendent Michael Grego said.
“I know we can do better,” Grego said. “We’ve maintained our graduation rate, but my staff that’s been around me knows how I feel about that. I know we can do better and we will do better.”
In Pinellas, the high school graduation rate remained steady at about 72 percent, while in Hillsborough the rate increased from 73 percent to 74 percent and Pasco maintained 76 percent. During the 2010-11 school year, the graduation rate in Pinellas was a dismal 65 percent.
Statewide, the graduation rate increased to 76 percent from 74.5 percent last school year and from 71 percent in 2011-12. During the 2003-04 school year, Florida was among the lowest in the nation, with a 59.2 percent graduation rate, but during the past decade the state’s graduation rates have increased by about 16 points.
Although the rates remained fairly steady across the board, the number of graduates in Pinellas increased by 152 students, and 11 out of 16 county high schools increased their individual rates by an average of 2.2 percent.
Boca Ciega had the largest increase in the school district, going from a graduation rate of 75 percent in 2011-12 to 85.03 percent in 2012-13. Dixie Hollins in St. Petersburg had the lowest rate, with 73.9 percent graduating, and Palm Harbor University High had the highest, with 96 percent graduating.
“We can’t overlook the gains that some of our schools have made, which are really wonderful,” Pinellas school board member Terry Krassner said.
The report also showed a small but “promising” increase among minority students in Pinellas, Grego said. The overall graduation rate for black students increased to 56.3 percent from 54.6 percent, and black males posted a 3 percent increase in graduations, from 46 percent to 49 percent.
The graduation rate among Hispanics jumped 2.21 percent from 2011-12 to 2012-13. However, both rates lagged behind white students’ 76.6 percent.
Other school districts found similar success among struggling populations. Sunlake High in Land O’ Lakes and Gulf High in New Port Richey, for example, showed significant improvement in raising the graduation rates for students considered the most at risk of failing, she said.
At Sunlake, the graduation rate for at-risk students improved to 75.7 percent, up from 56.3 percent in 2012. Sunlake’s overall graduation rate was nearly 89 percent, up from 85.4 percent.
For Gulf, the at-risk graduation rate was 50 percent, up from 36.4 percent a year ago. Gulf’s overall graduation rate was 69.4 percent, up from 67.1 percent.
“It’s nice to see our progress, but we want all our students to graduate,” Pasco Assistant Superintendent Amelia Van Name Larson told the Pasco school board this week.
Grego said he will meet with every high school principal in the coming days to discuss the graduation rates and best practices that could be adopted at other schools.
“If you lose a student, that’s it. There are no mulligans in this issue, and there shouldn’t be,” Grego said. “It doesn’t matter who or what was here when they first started school, these are our kids.”
Tribune writer Ronnie Blair contributed to this report.