DOWNEY – The Downey Unified School District has one of the lowest dropout rates in the area, according to first-of-their-kind statistics released by the state this week.
Nearly 90 percent of students who started school four years ago went on to graduate.
Downey Unified’s score beat averages for the state, county, and most nearby school districts.
“I’m delighted with those numbers,” said Martha Sodetani of the Downey Unified School Board.
Statewide, an average of 74.4 percent of students graduated high school. In Los Angeles County, 71.2 percent of students graduated.
Nearby districts did not fare nearly as well. At Bellflower Unified, 84.7 percent of students graduated. Whittier Union’s students graduated 83.3 percent of the time. Only schools in more affluent neighborhoods scored better than Downey. Cerritos High School, for instance, had a 97 percent graduation rate.
Sodetani credited the Downey’s “Character Counts” initiative for the 89.3 percent graduation rate, saying the effort has made huge differences in the way the staff and students deal with problems.
“If a student has a need, a problem, instead of looking at is a weakness, you see it as a need,” she said. “You can turn it around.”
“We’ve seen suspensions and expulsions drop dramatically,” she said.
The teachers are well-paid, and they take the time to make school interesting for students, she said.
Community charities and donors also have helped schools reach students, she said.
Downey High School’s graduation rate was 91.4 percent, and Warren High’s rate was 92.8. Only about 90 of the two school’s combined 1,700 students dropped out, according to the state data. Even at Columbus Continuation School, the graduation rate was 89.3 percent, far above most other area high schools.
In Sacramento, state education officials are touting the graduation data as the first reliable measure of dropout rates.
The new formula tracks students and takes into account students who move out of state or from district to district.
“Its the first time we’ve had four years of student level data where we can do that,” said Karl Scheff, administrator with the California Department of Education’s educational demographics office.
The 2010-2011 school year will serve as a baseline for years to come, he said.