Over the years, graduation rates have been on the rise across the state of Florida and Palm Beach County.
And the latest numbers continue to show that trend, with the county exceeding the state average.
For the 2017 fiscal year, the graduation rate for Palm Beach County Schools totaled a record breaking 85 percent. That total includes the charters schools in the district.
Lake Worth High School saw one of the highest increases during the last five years, jumping 7 percent in graduation rates over the last year. In 2013, the school had a 76 percent graduation rate and now it’s at 82 percent.
Pahokee High School and Glades Central High School also saw significant increases compared to other schools.
Principal Elvis Epps says you can see the reason behind record breaking graduation rates just by looking in his classrooms or his hallways.
“It’s connecting with the students. I often tell people -- if you can’t reach them, you can’t teach them," he said.
For the past four years, the school has especially honed in on struggling students to help boost graduation rates.
“We see what they need for graduation. We started this in the 11th grade, identifying those students. And then when they stopped coming — we had to go knock on doors, went to homes, asked students where are these kids," he said.
The school is also simplifying teacher schedules.
“I asked what can I do less of ao that they can do more to be successful with the students," said Epps. "Less field trips that are unrelated to the curriculum or the standards, everything had to build on the next day or the previous lesson."
Economics/government teacher and graduation coordinator Christopher Cain said the teachers having really been working together over the last year and a half.
“We’re more of a family and unit than I’ve seen in past years and we're coming together and I think because we have that mission of increasing our graduation rate, this is something that is going to continue to inspire us," he said. “It’s authentic teaching. It’s meeting with our students, relating with our students every single morning and afternoon."
Another strategy is using the ACT and SAT college scores as an alternative to passing the state’s exit exams, as well as ramping up after school tutoring.
“We used the ACT as a concordance score, or the SAT," said Epps. “If they can’t make it on the state exam, they can make it on the alternative exams."
Since 2016, the district has been aiming for a district wide graduation rate of 90 percent by 2021.
“Our intense focus on closing the achievement gap is working and more of our minority students are walking across the graduation stage on time and with honors. These historically high graduation rates confirm that the work of the District’s strategic plan is paying off,” said Superintendent Robert Avossa in a statement. “We set a goal of achieving a 90 percent graduation rate by 2021 — and we hit it, three years early. This doesn’t happen without the immense commitment of our teachers, school leaders and students.”
Cain said this trend is inspiring teachers to continue reaching their goals.
“This is something that is going to jump start us or revive us even more to continue this push," said Cain.
As for charter schools, which make up ten percent of the district’s enrollment, there is a ten point gain in the past five years, with a current graduation rate of 50 percent. The graduation rate for the entire district not counting the charter schools is 90 percent.