Seniors Amanda Strother, left, and Ella Richmond discuss a 16th century poem Wednesday during an advance placement literature class at South Medford High School. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch

Medford celebrates graduation jump

The Medford School District’s graduation rate rose for the second consecutive year, reaching 77.15 percent for 2015-16 and surpassing the state’s graduation rate of 74.83 percent, according to data released Thursday.

This year’s graduation rate marks the district’s highest since the state began calculating graduation rates by cohort in 2008-09. In 2014-15, the district’s graduation rate was 74.95 percent, up from 65.21 percent in 2013-14.

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that with graduation rates, it’s a K-12 effort, so I think the quality of teaching, the engagement of students and the support of families is helping to produce this momentum,” said Medford’s Chief Academic Officer Michelle Zundel.

The graduation rate jumped from 83.05 to 87.92 percent at South Medford High School, from 83.51 to 83.74 percent at North Medford High School and from 27.97 to 31.68 percent at Central Medford High School.

Although its graduation rate dropped from 91.04 to 90.67 percent, Logos Public Charter School continued to report the highest graduation rate of any high school in the county.

“There was no magic bullet to get (a 2 percentage point increase),” said Medford schools Superintendent Brian Shumate. “Some of it is structural, and some of it is cultural.”

Over the last few years, the district has expanded its credit recovery options and improved the way it shares data and tracks students so teachers know how students are progressing and can respond quickly if a student is falling behind, Shumate said.

District officials also are excited to see the impact of some of their long-range strategies, including full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes and an improved English language arts curriculum.

“We’re shifting the culture of the district to not let kids fall through the cracks,” Shumate said.

As Medford’s overall graduation rate went up, so did the graduation rates for many of its most vulnerable populations, including students with disabilities, migrant students, Hispanic/Latino students, English learners and economically disadvantaged students.

In 2015-16, the graduation rate for students with disabilities went up 11.67 percentage points to 56.25 percent. Of the 96 students with disabilities in the cohort, 28 earned a regular diploma, and 26 earned a modified diploma, according to Oregon Department of Education’s data.

Tania Tong, Medford’s director of special education and student services, credits several initiatives, including the implementation of the Check and Connect Mentor Program and the co-teaching model.

Trained Check and Connect mentors at the high schools and middle schools meet weekly with students with disabilities, who are considered “at risk,” to discuss attendance barriers, grades, discipline referrals and, if necessary, to advocate for schedule changes, Tong said.

Under the co-teaching model, a special education teacher and regular teacher work in tandem in a general ed classroom to support all students, Tong explained.

“The benefit is that students with IEPs (individualized education programs) receive all the instruction in a core class and aren’t removed from the general ed setting to receive specialized services,” she said. “It reduces the number of transitions.”

In 2015-16, the district also reduced the number of expulsions and suspensions among students with an IEP and, by doing so, kept them in school, she said.

“The improvement of our graduation rates is a community celebration,” said Zundel. “We are really proud of the work our staff are doing to change lives. We know that improved education outcomes increase opportunities for a lifetime, and that is not lost on our staff.”

In Eagle Point and Central Point school districts, the graduation rates also rose in 2015-16, while Ashland, Phoenix-Talent and Rogue River’s rates fell.

Nevertheless, the Ashland district still has the highest graduation rate in the county, with 88.21 percent of its students earning diplomas in four years.

Eagle Point High School Principal Jenn Whitehead said the school was “bursting at the seams with pride” over its 84.86 percent graduation rate, a 5.22 percentage point gain over the year before.

She said school staff have been more vigilant about involving parents when a student is struggling and encouraging students to complete their essential skill requirements as freshman.

Beginning last year, students in all grades began meeting in biweekly advisories to explore career fields and colleges, and go over transcripts, credits and grades so students could take ownership in their education, Whitehead said.

Last year, the high school also had more students participating in student-led conferences with their teachers. About 92 percent of all students attended these conferences with their teachers, compared to 23 percent of students in 2014-15.

“It’s a lot of different things coming together, but to me, it’s all of us wrapping our arms around these students and helping them get there and walk across that stage,” Whitehead said.

At Phoenix High School, the graduation rate dropped from 83.77 percent in 2014-15 to 75.27 percent in 2015-16.

The class of 2016 was a smaller class, and the difference in the number graduating in 2015 compared with 2016 was only about 15 students, said Phoenix-Talent Superintendent Teresa Sayre.

“While we did experience a dip — and we recognize that — our trajectory over the last five years has continued to climb, so we know that the interventions and supports we put in place K-12 seem to be working, and we will continue using those,” she said.

However, she said, the dip was confirmation that the district needs to improve its system of tracking students who transfer out of the high school.

Sayre said there were several students in the cohort who left to attend another school, but because the school was not able to verify that they were enrolled elsewhere, it had to include them in their dropout rate.

If resources allow, Sayre said, she’d like to add a staff member dedicated to following through with students with poor attendance and helping them overcome barriers and get connected with the school. She said she’d also like to develop more opportunities for students to retrieve credits outside the school year.

“Those two things would have definitely helped with this class, and are a good reflection for us and a lesson we learned,” she said.


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— Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or Follow her at


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