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Caddo Parish Public Schools saw the highest single-year increase in the region in students graduating on time, according to data released Wednesday by the Louisiana Department of Education.

The data shows Caddo’s graduation rate rose by 7.1 percent and put Caddo in the top 10 districts in the state for annual growth. With a graduation rate now at 80.9 percent, Caddo has accomplished a key component of the district’s 2020 strategic plan goal.

“Today’s release is the result of years of hard work by incredible teachers and staff to develop strategies which we knew would take time to show success, but were critical to addressing graduation rates in our community,” Dr. T. Lamar Goree, Superintendent of Caddo Schools, said. “After five years as Superintendent, we are seeing the result of years of a foundation being cultivated. We still have yet more work to do, but this progress is a strong indication of the upward momentum taking place in Caddo.”

The data highlighted significant gains the district made with students from diverse backgrounds graduating on time. Key to the district’s overall growth, African American students saw the highest single-year gain of nearly 9 percent across Caddo high schools.  Furthermore, Caddo saw an 8.6 percent gain in economically disadvantaged students graduating and an 8.4 percent gain in graduation rates for students with disabilities.

“Equity has been a defining word for our district in doing everything we can to provide access to opportunities and supports for our most at-risk students to see success,” Goree said. “The work is far from easy, but incredibly rewarding for our teachers and staff as they see our students go on to college and careers more than ever before. It is the hard work of classroom teachers and our administrators that you are seeing reflected today.”

Leading the district in growth, Woodlawn Leadership Academy’s graduation rate increased by 12.4 percent. A school which five years ago was facing state takeover, Woodlawn is part of Caddo’s Transformation Zone where the school climate has turned around through strengthened teacher supports as part of the Teacher Advancement Model (TAP) and individualized graduation plans for students. “Success must be intentional,” said Dr. Grady Smith, principal of Woodlawn. “It requires every adult on your campus to buy-in to the work taking place and to go the extra mile. There isn’t a day we are not working with children doing home visits, parent meetings and personalized programs to ensure our students and families understand the importance of graduation and the work that it takes to get there.”

At Huntington High School, the school saw a graduation rate increase of 11.5 percent in a single year. However, Dr. Matthew Mitchell, principal of Huntington, said the increase reflects much more than a number. “These are students’ lives that are changing,” Dr. Mitchell said. “Opportunities and experiences are opening up because of what we are doing and we try to keep that end goal in mind. It may seem overwhelming to a student when you are talking about credit recovery or early interventions, but that intentionality is what gets them to the finish line.”

That intentionality is echoed throughout the district from principals who said graduation rates are centered on opportunities coupled with tenacity. Take for example, Southwood High School which saw a 7.3 percent annual increase.

“It is our mission to maximize every instructional minute and opportunity for the students we maintain, but we also track students who also leave our school and move elsewhere,” said Principal Jeff Roberts. “Just because they leave your campus doesn’t mean you forget about them. Your students are your students and you want success regardless and having a strong registrar to keep up with students makes all the difference.”

It was North Caddo High School Principal Annie Cherry who summarized Wednesday’s results best, saying the school’s 7.2 percent gain is only possible when students, a school and a community build relationships. “Trust is at the center of what you see,” Cherry said. “Before our students ever step foot on campus, we are working with them as middle school students to talk about expectations and build relationships. Before students will ever perform at their highest level, they first have to trust you and believe you want the best for them. Without relationships, graduation rates are just a number. It’s the stories of our students and what they are accomplishing that really makes the difference. Those are the stories that stay with you for a lifetime.”