Littleton boasts highest in metro area
By Peter Jones
Arapahoe County’s two largest school districts are continuing to see upturns in high school graduation rates, according to newly released data from the Colorado Department of Education.
As it has in recent years, Littleton Public Schools continues to boast the highest graduation rate in the Denver metropolitan area with more than 90 percent of the district’s high school students graduating in four years or less during the 2011-2012 school year
The neighboring Cherry Creek Schools is inching behind Littleton with more than 87 percent of its 2012 seniors finishing in four years – up from 84 percent.
By comparison, Colorado’s on-time graduation rate is 75.4 percent and the national rate is almost 72 percent.
The two districts’ dropout rates are also moving in the right direction. Littleton’s is less than 1 percent while Cherry Creek saw 2 percent of its students leave school without a diploma. The statewide dropout rate is 2.9 percent.
Ethnic classifications within the districts have shown improvement for on-time completions. Cherry Creek’s rate for Hispanic graduates rose more than 5 percent to a total of 79 percent, about 17 percentage points above the statewide figure. Littleton’s Hispanic graduation rate was 77.6 percent, up from last year’s 76.9.
Similarly, Cherry Creek’s graduation rate for black students was 84 percent, well above the statewide rate of 66 percent. Littleton’s black students finished on time at a rate of 83.3 percent.
Whites and Asians in Cherry Creek had graduation rates around 90 percent, with white graduations increasing by nearly 3 percent. Littleton graduated 100 percent of its Asian students and 92 percent of whites.
Cherry Creek spokeswoman Tustin Amole says that district’s numbers reflect the organization’s focus on outreach to the various demographic groups it serves. Forty-three percent of the student population is African, Asian or Hispanic and 27 percent of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
“The schools work with student leaders and parents – that’s a key part of it,” Amole said. “Students from different cultures learn a little differently. Instead of focusing on how we teach, we focus on how kids learn.”
That mission has manifested in a number of ways, from elementary-level reading books with “relatable characters” to parent-staff collaborations that have strived to improve the classroom experience at middle and high school levels.
“These numbers show us that we are moving in the right direction and serving the needs of all our students, regardless of race, poverty, language and mobility,” Cherry Creek Superintendent Mary Chesley said in a statement. “Still, we must use this momentum to continue our work until every student can receive a high school diploma that shows they are college and work ready.”
For Littleton’s part, district spokeswoman Diane Leiker gives much of the credit to the organization’s “professional learning communities.”
For 10 days each year, school starts two hours late so groups of teachers can meet in an effort to identify challenges and work out locally based solutions.
“It gives teachers an opportunity to discuss individual student needs and look at data to really drill down to find out the needs of each individual student and how to address those needs,” Leiker said. “It’s a time to share some of their best thinking and best practices to help all of our kids achieve at their highest level.”
Leiker says while Littleton’s accelerated programs ensure that high-achieving students are challenged to live up to their potential, the district’s alternative education programs try to keep at-risk students on track for graduation.
Parents have played an important role too, Leiker said.
“We have a very supportive parent community and a very supportive community in general,” she said.
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