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High school graduation rates stable

Oregon's graduation rate remains virtually unchanged over the last year, according to statistics released Thursday by the Oregon Department of Education.

The number of students graduating high school in four years rose by only two-tenths of a percent, from 68.44 percent in 2012 to 68.66 percent last year, leaving the state far off course for its goal of a 100 percent graduation rate by 2025.

Across the Rogue Valley, districts saw more significant ups and downs in their graduation rates, including sizeable increases for schools in Medford, Eagle Point and Phoenix-Talent, and decreased rates for Central Point, Butte Falls and Ashland.

In Medford, every high school saw a rise in the number of students who graduated in four years.

"Things are going in the right direction," said Todd Bloomquist, Medford's director of secondary education. "Everything is up — we're very excited about that."

Central Medford High School — the district's alternative school — saw an increase from about 11 percent in 2012 to 15 percent last year. This was pleasant news for district officials, as the school's low graduation rate has been a topic of contention among board members and the community. Bloomquist said the district needs more resources to help families from Central, many of whom move in and out of Medford over the years.

"Our resources are so tight, and these families are in need of a lot more attention," Bloomquist said.

The district's overall graduation rate of 67 percent is still below the state average, and there's plenty of room for improvement, Bloomquist said.

"We're on the relentless pursuit of all students being successful," he said. "And that's until forever."

With the exception of the tiny 15-student cohort from the Butte Falls School District, South Medford had the highest graduation rate of schools in the region, rising from 80 percent in 2012 to nearly 85 percent in 2013.

"We've had a high graduation rate for a long time," said Principal Kevin Campbell. "Seven or eight years ago, when we started small schools, we really caught on to the concept of 'all kids.'"

Campbell said his hard-working, organized and dedicated staff deserves much of the credit for how many students graduate, and the students themselves need recognition, too.

"Kids here have a hard time falling through the cracks," he said. "And what we're really proud of is the kids. They're the ones that deserve the credit."

If the statistics included students who receive a GED or modified diploma in four years, South's rate would be over 90 percent, Campbell said.

Campbell said Gov. John Kitzhaber's goal of a 100 percent graduation rate by 2025 isn't too far-fetched to aim for.

The graduation rate has been on an upward trend for years at Eagle Point High School, according to Allen Barber, the district's human resources manager and former high school principal.

Barber said the district's average graduation rate is much lower but is skewed by the Upper Rogue Center for Educational Opportunity, which caters to high school students needing to make up credits. The school sends on-track students back to Eagle Point High to graduate, while some others complete GEDs.

"The information can be misleading," said Barber. "Our graduation rate has steadily improved."

Logos Public Charter School saw the county's most dramatic increase in its four-year graduation rate — jumping from just 19 percent in 2012 to 51 percent last year. After 2012's graduation rate was made public last year, school officials vowed to be stricter with admissions and withdraw underperforming students who didn't fit with the school's primarily homeschooled approach, which requires lots of family support.

Previously, Medford School District administration had also offered Logos as an alternative to Central Medford for expelled students, but the district now carefully considers whether students would have the support to attend Logos before enrolling them.

Oregon's graduation rate has increased by only 2.5 percent over the last five years, a slow pace if Oregon hopes to meet Kitzhaber's ambitious 40-40-20 goal by 2025.

Kitzhaber has set a goal for the state that 40 percent of Oregon students will obtain a bachelor's degree or higher, 40 percent will get an associate's or other two-year degree, and the remaining 20 percent will earn a high school diploma by 2025.

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.