Graduation rates at Montezuma-Cortez High School are among the worst in the state, according to statistics from the Colorado Department of Education from 2011.
Of the more than 170 highs schools in the state only 14 had lower graduation rates than the local high schools 57.5 percent in which 157 students out of 273 received diplomas in four years last year. According to the Department of Education, the 57.5 percent includes the numbers of graduates at Southwest Open Charter School.
The state average for all high schools was almost 74 percent.
The high schools graduation rates were only better than 8 percent of the other high schools in the state, and this news came as no surprise to Montezuma-Cortez School Board Re-1 members.
Other high schools in Montezuma County had some of the highest graduation rates in the state.
Dolores High School had a graduation rate of 89 percent in which 34 of 38 students received a diploma within four years of entering high school.
Mancos High School had 29 of 31 students, or 93.5 percent who received diplomas within four years, and 69 percent of students in Durango graduated within four years.
Re-1 School Board Vice President Jack Schuenemeyer said while the statistics are disappointing, they are not surprising.
We knew the graduation rates within four years were low, he said.
Statistics also showed that 62.1 percent of students at the Cortez high school graduated in five years, and 62.2 percent received diplomas after six years in high school.
The Department of Education defines graduation rates as only those students who graduate from high school four years after entering the ninth grade, while the old system prior to 2010 took into account the students who took longer than four years to earn their diplomas.
The Department also set 80 percent as the benchmark for graduation rates that districts are suppose to meet.
My sense is that there are a number of factors in the poor graduation rate, Schuenemeyer said.
He also said that the Native American population impacts the high schools graduation rate, and statistics from the Department of Education bear that out.
According to the department, only 29 out of 73 or 39.5 percent of Native American students received a high school diploma in four years last year.
We need to do a better job of engaging our Native Americans into education, he said.
He also said another reason is the number of high school principals the school has had over the years.
He said current high school Principal Gordon Shepherd, who is retiring at the end of the school year, has done a good job but was close to retirement when he was assigned to the high school.
He said the current plan is to hire a new superintendent and then allow that person a lot of input on naming the new principal.
We need some stability in the process, Schuenemeyer said. Clearly, we need to do a better job at engaging all of our students, but particularly Native Americans.
He also said he thinks building a new high school would increase graduation rates for two reasons a new building would be a more inviting and welcoming environment where students would start thinking that this was their school.
He said a second reason is a new school would come with the latest technology that would engage the students in education.
The real issue is engaging both students and parents, he said, adding they need to realize that the students of today will be facing global competition when they enter the workforce.
Re-1 board member Pete Montaño said the low graduation rates is one of the top issues facing the school board, and added it will have to be addressed.
We are well aware of (the low graduation rates), he said. That is why we are making the changes.
Montaño also pointed out that 59 percent of the students who attended college last year after graduating from Montezuma-Cortez High School had to take remedial courses for what they should have learned in high school.
According to the 2011 district performance framework report that the Department of Education published, only 41.7 of last years graduates were ready for college or the workforce and were given a 14.6 score out of 35 points.
That is a huge number, Montaño said. Some of our students are absolutely not ready.
Montaño also said he disagrees with Schuenemeyer on blaming the low graduation rates on Native American students.
All of them are capable of learning. You cannot use that as an excuse, he said.
He added the changing of the principals could play a component in the low graduation rates, but thinks most of the blame lies with the elementary schools where students could have picked up some bad habits.
Its K-12. It starts at the elementary level, he said.
Calls to Re-1 Board President Tim Lanier were not returned.
Michael Maresh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.