DEER ISLE, Maine — Four years after making a state watch list for low graduation and high dropout rates, Deer Isle-Stonington High School continues its remarkable improvement on both fronts.
According to figures released this week, the class of 2012 saw a graduation rate of 94 percent, with a 2011-2012 school year dropout rate of just 3 percent. Compare that with the ‘08-’09 numbers — 57 percent graduation and 10 percent dropout — and you’ll see why principal Todd West is a happy man.
“We had a great year last year,” West said Thursday. “We’re very proud.”
Though the Maine Department of Education won’t release statewide graduation figures for another few weeks, Deer Isle-Stonington’s graduation and dropout rates place them firmly ahead of the pack using last year’s numbers.
The average statewide graduation rate in the 2010-2011 school year was about 84 percent. Deer Isle-Stonington’s most recent figures would have ranked the school 17th of 133 high schools.
The most recent statewide dropout average is about 3 percent.
Deer Isle-Stonington’s improvements have been steady since being placed on the state’s list of “persistently low-achieving schools” in 2009. The school was taken off that list the following year. It’s graduation rate has grown from 57 percent in the ‘08-’09 year to 75 percent in ‘09-’10, 79 percent in ‘10-’11 and now, 94 percent in ‘11-’12.
“Something is clearly happening at Deer Isle-Stonington High School,” said state DoE spokesman David Connerty-Marin on Thursday. “Their graduation rate is showing significant improvement over three or four years. It’s more than just a one-year blip. They are doing tremendous work.”
Connerty-Marin also credited West, who took over as the school’s principal in 2007, for the school’s dramatic turnaround.
“They have a principal who is highly engaged and motivating, and they are devoting regular time for all teachers to participate in professional learning groups,” he said.
West said a wide range of initiatives are the cause for improved graduation and dropout rates at his school, but said two programs in particular have helped students succeed.
One is the availability of a staff member before, during and after school to offer personalized help to individual students, whether that’s in developing study habits or getting help on troublesome homework.
The other initiative is the creation of a Student Assistance Team. West said the team assesses each student at the high school eight times a year. He said a student doesn’t go a single month without their educational status being evaluated by staff.
“It truly is impossible for a student to fall between the cracks. They still fail or drop out occasionally, but we know when they’re headed down that road,” he said.
West said that while a 100 percent graduation rate is difficult to achieve and even harder to maintain, his school will continue shooting for that benchmark, rather than comfortably resting at above-average.
“I suppose you have to plateau somewhere, but we’re going to keep trying,” he said.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.