Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 31, 2013

Suttons Bay grad rates don't show big picture

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On-time high school graduation rates are down in Leelanau County, but is that a bad thing?

2011 graduation statistics look worse in Leelanau County, but it’s because Suttons Bay High School has taken on at-risk students whom the district knows won’t graduate in the standard four years, said Principal Raphael Rittenhouse.

He said other districts around the state try to get at-risk students to drop out before they bring down graduations statistics — before ninth grade — or send them to alternative schools for the same reason.

Suttons Bay has as many online students from districts across Michigan as local in-classroom students, Rittenhouse said. Many had been turned away from other districts.

“We’re doing a better job of keeping kids and not sending them to alternative schools,” he said.

But official numbers suggest that Leelanau schools have slid downhill. In 2007, 5.6 percent of county students didn’t graduate on time, the best completion rate in the state, according to Kids Count. In 2011, that number rose to 20.7 percent, and its rank dropped to 33, among 82 ranked counties.

Kids Count is a national effort to use statistics about the well being of children to promote policies that will improve their lives.

The statistics incorporate all public schools, including charters.

Leelanau County has four school districts; Suttons Bay Public Schools, Glen Lake Community Schools, Leland Public School District and Northport Public School District – each has one high school.

In 2011, Clinton County topped the statewide chart with 8.3 percent not graduating on time, while Lake County bottomed out at 47.1 percent, according to Kids Count.

In 2007-08, Suttons Bay High was one of the first schools – and the only one in Leelanau County – to participate in Reaching and Teaching Struggling Learners, a program run by the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education. It’s aimed at making schools work better to accommodate student’s needs.

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