50 percent graduation rate belies PBC charter schools’ successes

10:20 a.m. Friday, Jan. 19, 2018 Local
Tim Stepien

The 50 percent graduation rate posted by Palm Beach County’s 14 charter high schools may sound abysmal, but it is a 10 percentage-point gain over the year before and proved to be the rising tide that helped to raise the district’s overall graduation rate to a record high.

The number also belies what’s happening at the individual schools.

Five charter schools got more than 90 percent of their students across the finish line. Six saw their rates improve — two of those made double-digit strides. Still, eight charter schools had fewer than 10 percent of their potential graduates meet that mark,    due largely to their purpose — enrolling students who at one point dropped out or are at risk of doing so.

Charter schools enroll only a fraction of the district’s 193,000 students. That included about 11 percent of 2017’s potential graduates.

“It’s not a lot of kids but it adds up,” said Mark Howard, the district’s chief of performance accountability. When some of the highest performing charter schools post their best years and others that haven’t performed well do better, “Every one of those kids is important.”

District leaders are aiming for a graduation rate of 90 percent by 2021. This month, data released by the state revealed it is 3 percentage points closer with a rate of 85 percent.

Inlet Grove Principal Jon Myszkowski wants his Riviera Beach school to get some of the credit. The school saw its graduation rate go from 92 percent in 2016 to 97 percent a year later.

That graduation rate ranks Inlet Grove fourth among all of the county’s high schools, behind academic powerhouses Suncoast High and Dreyfoos School of the Arts – an accomplishment for a school where 89 percent of the students meet federal definitions of poverty.

“And our African-American male graduation rate? 100 percent,” said Myszkowski, proud to elevate a group that historically registers some of the lowest graduation rates.

G-Star School of the Arts in Palm Springs, South Tech Academy in Boynton Beach and Riviera Beach Maritime Academy also logged graduation rates above 90 percent — something each had done the year before.

So other than Inlet Grove’s significant boost, what changed among the high performing charters to push the overall rate higher? Somerset Academy Canyons entered the mix, graduating 107 of 112 from its first senior class.

“That made a big difference,” Howard said.

But other schools with fewer students and few graduates also were factors, he said.

Worthington High in West Palm Beach and Quantum High in Boynton Beach, for example, together improved their graduation rates and added 39 graduates to the mix.

That’s not to say only 39 students earned diplomas, notes Jim Pegg, director of the district’s charter school office.

“Worthington and Quantum had 87 or 88 kids walk at graduation and we’ll never see that number (in the graduation rates) because just short of half of them were outside the cohort,” Pegg said. They earned the same credits, met the same standard, but didn’t do it in time — they took longer than four years.

So while these schools made progress, their graduate rates were low, 9 percent and 11 percent, respectively.

Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post
Ivanka Trump hugs Inlet Grove Community High School President and CEO Dr. Emma Banks after a tour  in 2016. Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post