School district boasts record graduation rate

Abbotsford schools prioritize at-risk learners to ensure more students graduate high school than ever before.

School district superintendent Kevin Godden.

For the very first time, 90 per cent of students in Grade 12 in Abbotsford graduated high school, according to the superintendent’s annual report on achievement. That’s four points higher than the previous year, and ten points higher than the B.C. average.

“It’s pretty exciting. We set a goal for 100 per cent of our kids to graduate, but around the province, we know that average is about 80 per cent. For us to be at 90 per cent is a real testament to our teachers and our leaders in our schools,” said superintendent Kevin Godden.

The report was presented to the Abbotsford board of education at the Dec. 10 meeting and recounts achievements and challenges during the 2012-13 school year.

Aboriginal student graduation also attained an all-time high, reaching 78 per cent last year, after steadily increasing over the past five years. The rate was higher than the provincial average of 60 per cent, but still far lower than for non-aboriginal students. The school district has marked the issue as one of ongoing concern.

Godden attributes the district’s successes in raising graduation rates to a strategy of supporting at-risk students. Those who may not have graduated a few years ago are doing so now because of a host of supportive programs, he explained.

“Our growth is with our most vulnerable kids, and we know that it’s more than just the average teacher that’s going to make that work. We know it’s a result of really good programming and a high level of support for those kids,” said Godden.

Specialized initiatives that have been particularly successful are the career programs. Abbotsford schools boast the highest trades and technical program completion rates in the province. Last year, all 181 students registered in a career or technical program completed high school graduation requirements.

“For kids that are disengaged from school, you can’t give them more school. You have to give them different school,” said Godden.

For aboriginal students, the district has emphasized an individualized response in which it supports teacher role models to work closer with students.

“One of the most important things that works so well for kids is having a significant adult who cares and monitors and supports those kids…Relationships are critical for kids that are at risk,” said Godden.

Despite these successes, Abbotsford schools do not rank highly on the Fraser Institute’s annual list, which uses data from provincial Foundation Skills Assessment exams. The highest ranking public high school is Yale, 88th out of 284 secondary schools in B.C. The highest ranking elementary school is Auguston Traditional, 44th out of 853 schools.

Godden maintains that local schools are still above the provincial average for some test scores, including math.

“Districts don’t stay still. They’re either getting better or getting worse. As long as I see the signs that we’re continually improving – and for us, that’s working with our most vulnerable learners,” he said.

Going forward, the district is prioritizing the most vulnerable learners by supporting early learning programs for the youngest students, and a diversity of educational and career pathways for the oldest. The school district is also hiring an instructor on a five-year term to work specifically with youth involvement with crime.

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