The Oregon Department of Education’s latest high school graduation statistics paint a noteworthy picture for local school districts.

The statistics indicate that all nine of the public high schools in Union and Wallowa counties topped the state’s average graduation rate of 76.7 percent in 2016-17.

Graduation rates were up at Joseph, La Grande, Cove and Elgin high schools.

Joseph had a 100 percent graduation rate, up from 85.71 percent in 2015-16. Joseph School District Superintendent Lance Homan credits his school district’s high graduation rate in part to its small size of about 250 students, which makes it easier for faculty and staff to look out for students and provide help when needed.

“We are a tight group,” Homan said.

Elgin High School had the highest increase of any in Union or Wallowa counties, jumping from 76.67 percent in 2015-16 to an impressive 94.44 percent in 2016-17. Elgin School District Superintendent Dianne Greif credits this to a successful focus her school district now places on improving attendance.

“It has made a difference,’’ Greif said.

She noted that the school district now calls the parents of students whenever they have an unexcused absence as part of the effort to boost attendance.

La Grande High School’s graduation rate is listed at 80 percent, which means a streak is continuing.

“Our graduation rate has gone up steadily each year since 2012,” said LHS Assistant Principal Scott Carpenter.

LHS’s graduation rate was at 74 percent six years ago.

Upon closer inspection, LHS’s graduation numbers look even better because its completer rate is 89 percent. This refers to what a school’s graduation rate is when students who received alternative diplomas or GEDs are added to the list of graduates.

Carpenter said improving graduation numbers at LHS is due to many factors, including the extra mile teachers and school counselors go to make sure students are on track to graduate.

“There is a lot of outreach,” he said. “Teachers and counselors spend a lot of time working with families.”

La Grande’s expanding career technical education program is also boosting the district’s graduation rates, Carpenter said. The CTE program provides students with training in careers in fields such as welding and health care services. The graduation rate for students in CTE programs is
93 percent.

Carpenter said students in CTE programs are often more excited about school because they are learning skills directly applicable to careers they are interested in and often receive job experience while still in school.

In Cove, the graduation rate was 91.3 percent in 2016-17, up from 85.7 percent in 2015-16 and 79.3 percent in 2014-15.

“We are heading in the right direction,” said Interim Cove School District Superintendent Earl Pettit.

See complete story in Friday's Observer