In what used to be one of our lowest-performing
schools, four passionate high school students this week helped celebrate a 100% graduation rate in the now thriving Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy (KCAA).
"The art curriculum at Kunsmiller has helped influence my drive to go to college," said KCAA student Kya Butterfield, standing beside a vivid landscape of his own design. "My creative mindset will help me in my future career in quantum mechanics."
KCAA is a shining example of what's possible when a decision to close a long-struggling school is met by a community excited to help build a school their kids deserve. In 2007, Kunsmiller Middle School began to phase out its program and, in 2009, a K-12 school with an arts-enriched curriculum opened its doors.
Thursday, when the Colorado Department of Education released graduation, completion and dropout data for 2015-16, I joined students, educators and community members at the school in Southwest Denver to thank them for their incredible efforts and to congratulate them on a perfect graduation rate.
This "on-time" graduation rate looks at all the students who started at KCAA four years ago as freshmen to see if they have graduated within four years.
"Last year, every single one of our
students who started with us as freshmen four years ago
graduated," said KCAA Executive Principal Peter Castillo, citing a focus on ensuring students are ready every year to move forward. "Currently, our entire high school is on track to graduate."
The success we're seeing at Kunsmiller is being replicated across the region and throughout our district.
Consider that Southwest Denver high schools graduated 562 students in 2011-12; by last spring, that number had increased nearly 40% to 781 graduates.
We see that same story throughout our city. In the eight years since the state began tracking the four-year or "on-time" graduate rate, DPS has seen greater gains than any other school district in our state:
- For the ninth consecutive year, DPS' graduation rate has steadily increased. In 2006-07, our graduation rate was 39%, climbing to 67% in 2015-16. That's a gain of 28 percentage points, or a 70% growth rate.
- During the same time, our dropout rate has similarly declined by almost 70%. In 2005-06, the dropout rate was 11.1%, declining steadily to 4% in 2015-16.
This means thousands more kids are staying in school and moving forward toward graduating ready for college, career and life. Our vision is Every Child Succeeds, meaning that every young person graduates ready for college and career.
The state's data this week reminds us how far we have to go for some of our students, particularly our African-American and Hispanic students. But it also shows us how far we have come:
- Hispanic students are our largest student group and, in the past eight years, we have more than doubled their four-year graduation rate, from 30% in 2007 to 63.3% in 2015-16.
- African-American four-year graduation rates also have grown, from 43% in 2007 to 64% in 2015-16. The four-year graduation rate for white students in spring 2016 was 77.5%.
I am pleased to report that the students who start with us as ninth-graders, including our African-American and Hispanic students, graduate at higher rates. For these students, the four-year graduation rate was 74% and the five-year graduation rate is now 82%.
Overwhelmingly, the credit for the success we're seeing, at KCAA, in Southwest Denver and across our district, goes to the extraordinarily talented and caring educators who work so hard to support each and every student we have the privilege of serving in DPS.