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Statewide High School Graduation Numbers Tick Up, As Some Big Bend Counties 'Go Backwards'

Tai's captures

High school graduation data for the 2018-19 school year has been published by Florida’s Department of Education. The statewide numbers show an uptick of an eighth of a percentage point over the previous year, bringing the graduation rate to 86.9 percent.

Leon County’s graduation rate remained largely steady, seeing a .6 percent slip from last year. The district still ranks in the top five in Florida. Superintendent Rocky Hanna took to social media to say he likes what he sees.

“Leon County Schools is over 92 percent, fifth highest in the state,” Hanna said in a video on Twitter. “I just want to say thank you to the hard work of our teachers and the accomplishments of our students.”

Governor Ron DeSantis is highlighting growth in statewide black and Hispanic student graduation rates year-over year. As DeSantis celebrates statewide data, some rural Big Bend counties have seen numbers fall.

Jefferson County became the state's first all-charter district in 2017. It dropped nearly 11 percent to a roughly 63 percent graduation rate. Superintendent Marianne Arbulu says there’s work to be done.

“Obviously it’s disappointing to go backwards,” Arbulu, who was voted in as superintendent in 2016, said. “I did separate out this year’s district rate, did a desegregation by school, Somerset High by itself is actually 68 percent, so it’s actually 5 percent higher – still not a good number, and still behind last year.”

Somerset Academy serves the majority of high school students in the County. Jefferson is a tiny district with only about 800 students, which can account for some of the larger swings in graduation percentages. Arbulu  hopes to see a rebound:

“We have to do a better job, this is a five-year experiment, as you know, and we’re halfway through. They’re working hard and doing the best they can I believe, and hopefully we have better results next year.”

Gadsden, another rural county that has faced educational challenges, fell almost 6 percent, to 60.4 percent.

Further west in the Panhandle, Bay County Schools, which faced an uphill climb after Hurricane Michael, actually increased its graduation rate more than a percentage point to 82.5 percent.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.