Data submitted by the Tacoma Public School District to the state’s Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction show that the class of 2018 reached a graduation rate of 89.3 percent – the highest since the state began officially tracking the statistic in 2003. It also marks the eighth straight year of gains.
“What has become increasingly clear as the graduation rate has continued to rise,” said Superintendent Carla Santorno in an announcement, “is that we have created a culture of high expectations and success in schools across the district where everyone is involved and contributing.”
In the district’s final 2018 graduation report to the state, Tacoma’s 89.3 percent rate for 2018 also exceeds the statewide average graduation rate of 80.9 percent by a record 8 percentage points. The upward march in graduation rates in Tacoma’s high schools began after the district posted a dismal graduation rate of just 61.7 percent in 2011, and the high schools were labeled “dropout factories” by a national publication after the district posted the rock-bottom graduation rate of 55 percent in 2010. The outrage over the failing school system caused some district and community soul searching that create a list of lofty goals for each grade level to reach by 2020.
One of the most visible outcomes of that process led to the creation of Foundation for Tacoma Students, a nonprofit umbrella that has grown to represent 268 governments, nonprofits, businesses and community groups. Its singular goal is to improve student learning under the Graduate Tacoma banner by monitoring student activities, academic performances and setting “cradle to career” goals with a deadline of 2020, 10 years after the district’s low point.
The community effort set goals on 17 achievement indicators, from enrollment in preschool to elementary reading levels and achievement gaps between white and minority or disadvantaged students as well as graduation and post-high school education rates.
“First of all, I want to recognize the community support without which these amazing results would not have been possible,” said School Board President Karen Vialle. “If you look at where we were in 2011, just more than 61 percent, and how far we’ve come, it has been that community support plus pure hard work by our teachers, principals, counselors, paras, staff – everyone in the organization – and of course our students.”
The district, however, is facing funding troubles that have led to layoffs because the state’s funding model for public schools hamstrung urban districts like Tacoma by limiting the amount it can gather from voter-approved levies. Voters, for example, approved $70 million in levy funding but the new formula only allows the district to collect just $40 million of that. The district, and others in similar situations, is seeking help from lawmakers during the upcoming session to balance out that shortfall.