The Janesville School District has seen an increase in high school graduation rates for the past three years. Data released by the Department of Public Instruction this month shows the district is continuing to make improvements, specifically with minority and economically disadvantaged students.
"We believe that when you set goals, when you set a small number of goals and really target those goals, typically you're going to see an increase and that's what we have done," Superintendent Karen Schulte said.
Craig and Parker high schools in Janesville surpassed the state’s 88 percent graduation average. In the 2012-13 school year Parker High School graduated 91.8 percent of students, while Craig High School graduated 95.1 percent, with minorities showing the biggest improvements.
"It's a phenomenal feeling. We work really hard with our youth. It’s literally a 24 hour, seven day a week job. We work at trying to remove any barriers, whether it's in school or outside of school, that may prevent them from being successful. Not only in school but in life in general," Craig High School's Dean of Students Sonja Robinson said.
Breaking down those barriers is what youth advocates like Robinson said helps students to increase their test scores and go on to graduate.
"Getting them to known that regardless of their physical appearance, beliefs, or what their socioeconomic status might be they are important, and you can do and still be whatever it is, what you want to do and be in life," Robinson said.
Graduation rates improved by 5.1 percent between the 2009-10 and 2012-13 school years. Over those same years the district hired five youth advocates to work directly with students to promote success in the classroom.
"A lot of times teachers do not have the opportunity or the time to put in the extra work that a youth advocate can put in to help that student be successful," Robinson said.
Despite the increase in minority graduation rates, graduation among white students is leading the district. Schulte said to continue to close the achievement gap, there are still areas that need improvement.
"We need more staff here that reflect the ethnic origins of our students and that means hiring. We also need more counselors and student services staff. We know the students that come into our schools today have many issues that they have to overcome," Schulte said.