Kennidy Outlaw, 16, left, and Chelby Smalley, 16, participate in an exercise Wednesday during their anatomy class at North Medford High School. North Medford's graduation rate has surpassed 90 percent. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]

North Medford top of the class

North Medford High School had the highest four-year graduation rate among Jackson County public high schools in 2017.

The school achieved a 90.29 percent graduation rate, a 6.55 point gain from 2016.

Ashland High School saw its rate edge downward to 87.6 percent from 88.21.

Logos Public Charter School, which previously had the highest graduation rate, fell by 3.77 percentage points to 86.9 percent.

North Medford Principal Dan Smith credited the rise in part to a culture shift that encouraged students early in their high school careers to plan their class schedules around graduating on time.

"We kind of created a sense of urgency for our students," he said. "And our staff rallied around them and said, 'Hey, let’s not wait until the 11th hour to get everything done for graduation.' "

The result, he said, was far fewer students enrolling in summer school because they had finished their credit requirements within four years.

"I celebrated for about three and a half minutes and said, 'OK, we’re in the middle of a repeat performance right now,' " Smith said. "I think that’s completely doable to sustain a 6 percent improvement."

South Medford High School experienced a drop of 4.85 percentage points, to 83.07 percent. Even so, Medford School District's graduation rate as a whole rose by 0.92 percentage points to a 78.07 percent graduation rate.

Prospect School District saw a decline for the second year in a row, and Ashland and Rogue River dropped for the third year. Prospect fell by 9.52 percentage points to a 66.67 rate, and Rogue River dropped by 5.9 points to 67.07.

Rogue River, Prospect, Butte Falls and Pinehurst all have graduate "cohorts" of fewer than 100 students, which means they are prone to more dramatic rises and falls year by year. Butte Falls, for example, increased by 14.57 points to reach 76.47 percent in 2017, a year after it fell from 71.43 percent to 61.9 percent.

Pinehurst School District, which sends high school-age students to Ashland High School, maintained a steady trajectory of 100 percent graduation. Its cohort was composed of a single student who received a diploma.

Alternative high schools, which adopt varying names across Jackson County school districts, experienced mixed results in graduation rates.

Armadillo Technical Institute, an alternative school in the Phoenix-Talent School District, saw a 22.03 percent jump to 42.86 percent, although it also had a small cohort: 11 out of 28 students graduated.

Central Medford High School's graduation rate slipped by .25 percent to 31.43 percent.

Upper Rogue Center for Education in Eagle Point School District maintained a 0 percent graduation rate, although the school has said in previous years that it's in part because students are steered to return to the high schools they started out in. The district as a whole had a 65.12 percent graduation rate, up from 64.79 the year before.

Central Point School District doesn't have an alternative high school. Instead, its three schools housed within Crater High School are intended to provide what superintendent Samantha Steele called "personalized education." Its graduation rate districtwide increased from 77.12 to 81.99, a jump of nearly 5 points.

"One of the agreements we made when we transitioned to small schools is we would serve every student at the Crater campus," she said. "So that means that each high school has had to be very creative about how to individualize and personalize instruction for kids."

The concepts of personalizing education, expanding project-based learning and incorporating more opportunities for career and technical education are themes that several school districts refer to in their plans for how to either keep a positive trajectory or restart one.

Medford School District is pushing for more CTE facilities after presenting a plan to the School Board for new buildings at North and South. Superintendent Brian Shumate said the effort is intended to develop programs that will work for more kinds of learners, so they can stay at their original high schools and not be switched over to the alternative school.

"I think our traditional high school model is really only built for about 80 percent of the kids," he said. "Will Central change? Absolutely. Over time, I think it will."

Overall, Medford, Ashland, Pinehurst and Central Point school districts all came in with graduation rates above the state rate, which rose to 76.65 percent in 2017.

Correction: The article has been updated with the correct graduation rate and percent change for South Medford High School.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or Follow her on Twitter at

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