Graduation Rate Edges Upward; the Superintendent Credits a Program That Identifies At-Risk Students

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Byline: BETH REESE CRAVEY

Clay County's high school graduation rate, which had been on an upward trend since the 1998-99 school year but dropped slightly for 2003-04, is headed back up.

For 2004-05, the percentage of Clay students who graduated after spending four years in high school was 75.1, 1.3 percentage points higher than the previous school year's 73.8. Clay's rate exceeded the state average by 3.2 percentage points.

The increase over the year before was slight, but Superintendent David Owens said he was pleased nonetheless.

"I'll take anything I can get," he said. "Any time you see an increase, it's good, making sure you're not stagnant or going the other direction."

On Wednesday, Gov. Jeb Bush and Education Commissioner John L. Winn announced statewide 2004-05 graduation rates.

The state average was 71.9 percent, continuing consecutive annual increases since 1998-99, when the rate was 60.2 percent, they said in a prepared statement. Since 1998-99, graduation rates for students from all ethnic groups have risen, the statement said.

"Our students are dreaming bigger and performing at higher levels than ever before thanks to Florida's educators," Bush said in the statement. "Record numbers of high school students taking AP courses and the SAT, combined with a steady rise in graduation rates, demonstrate that Florida has created learning environments grounded in student achievement and aspiration."

Owens attributed the Clay County improvement to an ongoing initiative that identifies students at risk of dropping out and provides them counseling or other programs to help keep them in school.

"We focus on graduation. We want the children to be successful," he said.

The focus begins on ninth-graders. …