By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Most public school divisions in the Northern Shenandoah Valley beat the state average in on-time graduation earned by 2011, according to data released Tuesday by the Virginia Department of Education.
The data showed Clarke County students with the highest regional on-time graduation rate of 99.5 percent, followed by Warren County at 91.6, Shenandoah County at 89.8, the city of Winchester at 88.4, and Frederick County at 84.8.
The statewide on-time graduation rate was 86.6 percent.
School administrators were pleased by the performance of their divisions. Several said their above average ranking reflected the high priority they assign to on-time graduation for high schoolers.
"That is a very important statistic for us," said Rick Catlett, assistant superintendent of Clarke County Public Schools. "It reflects our general belief and practice that all kids can and should graduate from high school on time career- and college-ready."
Greg Drescher, assistant superintendent of instruction for Warren County Public Schools, said he was "very proud of the advances we have made with on-time graduation."
Drescher said the division's rate has risen over the years from the high 80s to this year's 91.6 percent.
"We have an ongoing focus on building positive relationships with the kids," Drescher said. "If they enjoy being in school, they will tend to stay in school.
He also cited efforts to strengthen relationships between educators and parents and the establishment of alternative education programs as two other important factors in keeping students in school.
George Craig, coordinator of curriculum and instruction with Winchester Public Schools, said his division's graduation rate has risen from 76 percent to 88 percent in the last three years.
"It's gone up, which means we're being more effective with dropout prevention," Craig said.
Craig said the consistency of the graduation rate among racial subgroups was an even more heartening achievement for Winchester schools. For example, black students are graduating on time at a rate of 88 percent and Hispanics register at 84 percent, he said.
"We're just pleased at how well each group has performed," Craig said.
In Frederick County, Superintendent David Sovine said in a written statement that the state report "highlights areas of success and opportunities for growth."
"One of the keys to improving the on-time graduation rates and reducing the number of dropouts is engaging students in learning every day," Sovine said.
Ebbie Linaburg, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Shenandoah County Public Schools, said keeping students in school requires a broad effort that begins in grade school with attention to student attendance and reading instruction.
"We're trying to make this a division-wide effort, not just the high schools, Linaburg said.
State officials noted that Virginia's on-time graduation has improved by 4.5 percent since 2008, the first year the Department of Education calculated statistics in a way that factors in student mobility, promotion and retention.
The Department of Education defines an on-time graduate as one who receives one of five diplomas recognized by the Virginia Board of Education -- advanced, standard, modified standard, special or general achievement -- within four years of the first time the student begins ninth grade.
The state calculates on-time graduation by dividing the number of students earning a state Board of Education-approved diploma in 2011 by the number of students who entered the ninth grade for the first time in the 2007 to 2008 school year, plus those who transferred in and minus transfers out.
"The progress our schools have made in raising graduation rates is due to the efforts of hundreds of teachers, counselors, principals and other educators across the commonwealth who have refused to give up on even the most challenging students," said Patricia I. Wright, the state's superintendent of public instruction.