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Crook County High School tops region for students on track to graduate in four years

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Prioritizing in-person education kept graduation numbers strong in Crook County.

Challenged by some pandemic-stunted school years, Crook County School District has emerged at the top of the region for keeping students on track to graduate in four years.

Oregon Department of Education recently released its Oregon At-A-Glance report, highlighting the percentage of freshman on track to graduate "on time." Crook County High School tops the Central Oregon high schools with more than 95% of freshmen finishing the 2020-21 school year on track to earn a diploma in four school years. CCHS bested Summit High School, which had 94.4% of its freshman on track to finish high school in four years. The gap widens between Summit and third-ranked Bend Senior High at 84.3%.

District-wide, 87.4% of freshmen are on pace to complete high school in four years, making it the top district by a wide margin. Culver School District ranks second at 80.4% and Sisters School District ranks third at 77.8%.

The strong performance comes in a region where most districts and individual schools exceed the state average. All school districts rank higher than the 73.6% statewide average, and only two high schools (Redmond's Ridgeview and La Pine) rank lower among Central Oregon schools.

CCSD leaders attribute the strong on-track rankings to the district's ability to provide in-person education for the majority of the school year. They stress that the decision last year to prioritize in- person learning and bring students back into the classrooms has paid dividends with student success. High school students in Crook County started the 2020-21 school year online but transitioned to hybrid in October and full-time, in-person by January 2021.

These efforts, they said, made a significant difference in the success of all students but particularly freshmen. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joel Hoff, who oversees student success for the district, says the increased freshmen on-track rate demonstrates the benefits of serving students in-person, and why it's so important for freshmen to have additional support when they begin their high school journey.

"We've put in place a tracking system that alerts administrators when a student begins showing signs of drifting off-track," he said. "This means we can get students the individualized support they need so they avoid falling behind and still have the opportunity to thrive for the rest of their high school career."

CCHS Principal Michelle Jonas said that building positive relationships with students is just as important as what they learn in the classroom.

"We know that if students feel happy and safe, they're more likely to succeed, and I'm incredibly proud of our staff for going the extra mile to ensure all students have the opportunity to graduate," she added.

Students echoed the view of educators. CCHS Sophomore Celina Tucker weighed in on the difference in-person opportunities made versus online learning.

"When I was online at the beginning of the school year, I got behind on credits," she said. "I came to school for early-bird classes, doubled my course load, and attended summer school because I was deficient in three credits last year. This year, I'm taking advanced classes like honors geometry, and I wouldn't be here without my teachers never giving up on me."

In addition to the in-person emphasis during the regular school year, Superintendent Dr. Sara Johnson gives credit to the summer school program, which drew a much larger number of students than usual.

She pointed out that the pandemic pushed the school district to rethink its approach to education, and the district's success points to the work of the entire system and the experience students have from kindergarten through high school.

"I want to thank our school board for having the vision and leadership to try new methods, fund new programs, and find creative ways to support our students," Johnson said. "The success of our freshmen is also owed to the teachers and classified staff at the elementary and middle school levels and their interventions. Our goal is to make Crook County School District one of the best-performing districts in the state, and I think we're well on our way to achieving that."

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