Graduating from high school continues to be difficult for School District 8 students, even though success rates are on the rise provincially.
Statistics released by the Ministry of Education last week showed just 69 per cent of students in the Kootenay Lake district either earned their certificate of graduation or an adult graduation diploma for the 2016-17 school year.
The district includes Nelson’s L.V. Rogers Secondary, Creston’s Prince Charles Secondary, Kaslo’s J.V. Humphries Secondary and Slocan Valley’s Mount Sentinel Secondary. Students who completed their graduation within six years of enrolling in Grade 8 are considered in the report.
Overall, the district’s graduation rate dropped three per cent from last year, nine per cent from 2014-15 and is the lowest it has been since 84 per cent of students graduated in 2005-06. Provincially, the graduation success rate increased from 83 to 84 per cent.
Superintendent Christine Perkins said Tuesday she was aware graduation success rates have been trending down in the district, but was still shocked by the report.
“We’re not happy with that,” she said. “We don’t like being average or in the middle of the pack so to speak in the province. All of our admin team and our senior staff have said yes, we want to go from average to amazing. So we’ve set a plan in place to deal with that step by step that includes new learning strategies that we’ll bring in next year.”
There were also big drops in aboriginal and special needs student grads.
Just 58 per cent of aboriginal students graduated last year, which is a 10 per cent decrease from the previous school year and the first time the percentage has been below 60 per cent since 2008-09. Meanwhile, just 49 per cent of special needs students graded, down nine per cent from the previous year.
Small cohorts — 40 aboriginal and 21 special needs students, respectively — should also be considered, although provincial numbers are trending upward for both aboriginal grads (66 per cent) and special needs (69 per cent).
SD8 numbers are in stark contrast to those in SD20, which includes Trail and Castlegar and boasts a 93 per cent graduation rate.
Perkins said the district has already consulted with the ministry about the report, and said there’s no one reason for the declining numbers. Right now the plan, according to Perkins, is to take a close look at each student individually to make sure they are on track to graduate.
Perkins added the district is starting to think out of the box for solutions that don’t require a typical classroom setting. One example is a reinstated carpentry program in Creston that provides college credits as well as credit for graduation.
“That motivates some of those kids who aren’t academically bound or not going to go onto UVic or McGill,” said Perkins. “We have lots of programs in the district that challenge those students. What we need to do is really wrap around the students who are right there in the middle. They might be at 47, 48, 49 per cent. How do we get them over the hump?”
She said work experience is also being reviewed as a possible way for students to earn credits.
“They might be doing something up at the ski hill we aren’t even aware about. I know there’s some kids involved very much right now in the Nelson Tech Club. Why can’t we put a course together that gives them credit around coding and technology? So we’re working with our principals to put some of that stuff together so the kids get other options.”