This year’s high school graduation numbers were released by the Washoe County School District last week and I could not be more proud of our students. District-wide, 84 percent of our students graduated last year. That’s five consecutive years of a steady increase and the highest graduation rate we’ve ever experienced!
And right here in Sparks, all of our schools exceeded that, with Reed graduating 88 percent and Spanish Springs and Sparks High both graduating 89 percent. Even more impressive, the number of students graduating from Sparks High increased by 15 percentage points just in the last year. Four generations of my family have graduated from there, including myself in 1960 (according to google, but check with him), and I have never been more honored to be a Sparks Railroader.
As a member of the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees, I am privileged to witness the inspiring work being done by teachers, principals, and staff across the district. I know that more kids are graduating because of the support we are providing to them. Through our multi-tiered systems of support, the staff is able to work individually with each student who is struggling. And whether they need extra mentoring, tutoring, makeup credits, or boot camps on weekends and during intersession, our district staff members are there to provide it.
At Sparks High, in particular, I am so proud of the work that Principal Kevin Carroll has done over the last few years to support students. Last summer, he identified some of the students who were really struggling. Each member of the school’s administration team “adopted” a handful of students, providing one-on-one mentorship throughout the year.
The school, like many in the district, has also implemented a co-teaching model, some classes are taught by both a general education teacher and a special education teacher. Because of this extra assistance, at Sparks High School, the percentage of students with special needs graduating rose from 31 percent to 67 percent. The percentage of English Language Learners also skyrocketed – from 36 percent to 85 percent.
Though my heart will always be with Sparks High School, we can’t just celebrate their success. We’ve come a long way in closing the achievement gaps experienced by vulnerable populations at all schools. District-wide, the number of English Language Learners who graduated in 2017 rose by 34 percentage points – to 67 percent. Special Education students experienced more success as well – with 59 percent of students graduating, an increase of 28 percentage points from last year.
And at every school across the district, the percentage of students walking across the graduation stage increased this year. At the Academy of Arts, Careers, and Technology (AACT), every single senior graduated! And at Damonte Ranch, Galena, Incline, North Star Online School, Reno, McQueen, and TMCC High, more than 90 percent of seniors crossed the finish line.
Several years back, our Board of Trustees set a goal in our strategic plan that we’d see 90 percent of kids graduating by 2020. After seeing these numbers, I am confident we will hit that goal easily. In Sparks, I hope we hit that by next year.
It’s the culture of Sparks High School to help and support each other. From the administration to the teachers to the support staff, everyone at that school cares about and builds relationships with the kids. That’s why we’re seeing such success, and why I know the Railroaders will continue to make me proud.
John Mayer has served as a Washoe County School District Board of Trustee since 2010. He served on the Sparks City Council from 1991 to 2008.