High school graduation rates have reached a new high in Sonoma County, topping the state average, as gaps in achievement between white and Latino students continue to narrow.
A record 84 percent of Sonoma County high school students graduated with their class last year, an increase of 1.5 percentage points from the previous year, according to new data released by the California Department of Education.
Statewide, 83 percent of students graduated with their class.
“This is welcome news and shows that our efforts to improve the high school graduation and college-going rates for local students are paying off,” Sonoma County schools Superintendent Steve Herrington said in a statement.
The graduation rate for Latino students — a group that now makes up 45 percent of students enrolled in Sonoma County public schools — rose to 81 percent last year, a two-point jump from the previous year and one point over the state’s current average.
“This is encouraging progress,” Herrington said. “While disparities in the achievement gap remain, these new graduation rates show that we’re on the right track with our efforts to ensure all students succeed.”
While encouraging, the upswing isn’t a total surprise. Graduation rates have been steadily climbing in Sonoma County, rising 10 percentage points over the past seven years. The rate among Latino students in the county has increased even faster, rising more than 15 points during that period. As a result, the achievement gap between white and Latino students has narrowed dramatically.
Last year, Latino graduation rates in Sonoma County lagged behind the overall county rate by 3 points, compared with a gap of 9 points seven years ago.
School officials attribute the changes to more student engagement and bringing extra resources to traditionally underserved students.
“Much credit is due to the excellent work of our local teachers and administrators who work every day to ensure students are gaining the skills they need to be successful in our changing world,” Herrington added.
Santa Rosa City Schools, the county’s largest school district, saw its graduation rate increase by 10 points to 86 percent over the past seven years. Among Latino students, the rate grew by 17 points to 81 percent during the same period.
Comparable data for previous years was not available. Before the 2009-10 school year, graduation and dropout rates were calculated differently.
The Cotati-Rohnert Park school district also saw significant gains. The graduation rate climbed to 91.6 percent over the last seven years, an increase of 9 points. Latino students made the biggest gains in the district, increasing their graduation rate by more than 17 points in the seven-year period to 92 percent.
Superintendent Robert Haley said the school district added more counselors, including one dedicated to college and career preparation, and hired more bilingual staff. Also, the district previously moved its alternative schools — El Camino and Phoenix High — to Rancho Cotate High School, allowing students to have access to various clubs and elective classes while receiving academic support to recover credits and ultimately earn their diplomas.
“We believe all students are entitled to a successful education,” Haley said, “which means making sure we prepare our students for college and careers.”
You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @eloisanews.