All the Grade 12 Indigenous students at Agassiz Elementary Secondary School graduated last year, in a first for the school district as it sees its highest ever graduation rate.
In the 2020, the Fraser Cascade School District saw 80.6 per cent of its Grade 12 students leave high school with a dogwood diploma. This is the highest graduation rate in the last 20 years at least, and the first time the district has actually had a higher graduation rate than the provincial average.
The last time the district was remotely close to the provincial average was in 2010-2011. In that year, the provincial average was 77 per cent, and SD78 had 76.1 per cent of its Grade 12s graduating.
The district’s two largest high schools, Hope Secondary and AESS, both saw major increases in the percentage of students graduating last year.
AESS saw 97.4 per cent of students graduating in 2019-2020, the same as in 2014-2015 and part of a general trend upwards after a dip downwards in 2015-2016.
Hope Secondary has seen massive swings in its first-time Grade 12 completion rate in the past four years. In 2016-2017, it had nearly 60 per cent of its grads leaving with a diploma, then up to 92.9 per cent the following year. In 2018-2019, that number went down to only 55.1 per cent of its graduates.
Last year, the high school graduated 81 per cent of its Grade 12 students.
Boston Bar Elementary Secondary School graduated 100 per cent of its Grade 12 students in 2019-2020. Fraser Cascade’s continuing education program and Two Rivers Education Centre had a 50 per cent graduation rate, while Agassiz Centre for Excellence saw no graduates last year.
Significantly, AESS saw all of its Indigenous students in Grade 12 graduate last year.
“There’s very few schools in Canada that have done that,” superintendent Balan Moorthy said. He said asked staff how that happened.
“They are just refusing to accept failure as an option,” he said. “If they hadn’t passed by June, they were literally pulling them into the school and saying ‘You’re going to finish this and we’re going to make sure you succeed.’”
For many years, its has been a tale of two school districts for Indigenous students. In 2009-2010, only 52.6 per cent of Indigenous students graduated within six years of entering Grade 8. That same year, 78.6 per cent of non-Indigenous students were graduating.
The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students was at its greatest in 2015-2016, when 85.1 per cent of non-Indigenous students graduated, but only 41 per cent of Indigenous students did.
Since then the gap has gotten smaller, and Indigenous students are back above the provincial average. However, there is still around a 12 percentage point gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous graduates.
Although the district is seeing success for many of its students, those with special needs are being left behind. In 2019-2020, less than half of students with special needs graduated in six-years, compared to 94.6 per cent of students without those needs.
That number is still an increase from a decade ago, when only a quarter of students with special needs in the district were graduating within six years.
SD78’s graduation rates for students with special needs are significantly below the provincial average of 73.9 per cent, while its rates for students without special needs are slight above the rest of the province.
“That’s a growth area for us … and we’ll continue to push forward” to increase those rates, Moorthy said at the SD78 board meeting on Feb. 16.