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New RHS principal making better grad rate a top priority

Aug 8, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

For the 2010-11 school year, the RHS graduation rate was 84 percent, but it dropped to 73 percent in 2011-12.

New Riverton High School principal John Griffith has taken the reins on steering graduation numbers to a successful level beginning in the 2013-14 school year. Griffith presented the Graduation Matters Riverton Campaign to the Fremont County School District 25 Board of Trustees and Riverton City Council during their meetings in July.

He said the objective of the campaign would be to increase the rate of students graduating from RHS and make sure those graduates are career-ready. The school also hopes to create a functional networking system between schools, community organizations and businesses, and Griffith said he also wants to improve the school's relationship with the community.

"I want to make the graduation of our students our community standard," he said. "That is an expectation of everyone, not just our small high school staff."

For the 2010-11 school year, the RHS graduation rate was

84 percent, but in the 2011-12 academic school year, the rate decreased to 73 percent.

Graduates vs. dropouts

Griffith said that between the fall of 2010 and April 2013, RHS has lost 77 students. For some, no high school transcripts were requested or they pursued the General Educational Development test. For Wyoming, he said roughly 2,000 students didn't graduate from high school in 2011, which leads to a total loss of $159 million in lifetime earnings for that group of dropouts.

On average, a student who graduates from high school in Wyoming earns close to $5,000 more each year than a high school dropout, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national policy and research group that advocates for more school funding and the improvement of federal policy to better graduation rates.

In District 25, 28 students chose to take the GED from Jan. 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2011. When those dropouts lack the funds or job skills to leave their community, they earn about $130,000 less for their community every year.

If only half of Wyoming high school dropouts had graduated, home sales would increase by $19 million, as would auto sales by $1.1 million and annual state tax revenue by $300,000. An increase of $4.8 million in earnings, $3.6 million in spending and more than 50 new jobs also were projected.

Griffith said that with a 5 percent increase in male graduation rates, Riverton would save itself more than $89,000 in crime-related expenses each year. From 2007 to 2011, an average of 11.6 percent of Riverton residents 25 years old and older had no high school diploma, which was higher than the state's average of 8.1 percent. Riverton also has a higher poverty rate than the state's average.

According to the 2012 High School Dropouts in American survey, the top reason for leaving school is a lack of parental support or encouragement, followed by becoming a parent and a shortage of credits necessary for graduation. Other reasons for dropping out include too many days missed from school, failing classes, having classes students are not interested in, or experiencing a mental illness.

Community involvement

To make sure everyone in the community understands and helps work toward the goals, Griffith said school officials have met with the Riverton Chamber of Commerce, Central Wyoming College and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Wyoming -- based out of Worland -- for mentoring services.

In August, they plan to meet with local clubs and organizations, kick-off partnering campaigns, have a logo contest through the RHS art department and meet with local media outlets.

"I want to make sure that we are meeting the needs of our community and so those are conversations that I've started to have," Griffith said.

In September, officials hope to recruit businesses and community partners to be on the campaign's task force. By October, volunteers will be chosen and orientation will take place with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

He added that Stacey Nelson at the GED office at CWC will help put together surveys for students who drop out to get a better understanding of the obstacles they encounter.

"Before the student's going to drop out, before they make it to my office, that decision was made a long time ago, so he or she is going to tell me whatever I want to hear to let them go, and it's a fine line for me to walk," Griffith said. "Do I tell them no and send them away? They may never come back. Or do I help them sign up for the GED?"

In December, planning for the Jan. 20 kick-off event will begin, the logo winner will be announced and posters, fliers and other items will be purchased for distribution at local businesses. In collaborating with others, Griffith said school- and community-based opportunities can be created and implemented for graduation success.

The same program has been proven successful in Montana, Griffith said, where schools turned their graduation rate from 72 percent to 90 percent.

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