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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Cyprus High School students move between classes on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. The school's graduation rate climbed 11 percent between 2016 and 2017.

MAGNA — High school graduation rates are up 1 percent statewide, and at Cyprus High School the rate climbed 11 percent between 2016 and 2017.

According to high school graduation report released Monday by the Utah State Board of Education, Cyprus High School's graduation rate climbed to 87 percent, 1 percent above the new state average of 86 percent.

Utah State Board of Education
Utah's public high school graduation rate climbed to 86 percent in 2017, increasing each of the past five years, according to data released Monday by the Utah State Board of Education. There have been increases among all demographic groups over the same period, the data states. More than 40,000 students graduated from Utah traditional public schools and public charter high schools last spring.

There's no "secret sauce," says Cyprus High Principal Robert McDaniel. "If I had some secret sauce, I'd be a millionaire."

But it is an indication that initiatives that identify and assist students who are struggling early on in high school or efforts to restructure the school day to give students who work or catch buses immediately after school an opportunity to do homework or ask teachers for help during school hours are paying dividends.

"We're doing a better job with collaborating and identifying kids who are at risk of not graduating. We do that earlier and put individual plans in place for those students," he said.

A year ago, the ninth grade was added to Cyprus High, now a school of some 2,500 students. The change has helped give the high school more control, academically, over how students progress toward graduation, he said.

McDaniel said he has charged administrators to mentor struggling students and "find out what we need to get those kids on track."

That can mean difficult, frank conversations with students and families.

It also means encouraging teachers to teach in an engaging way. "Quiet" classrooms are discouraged. "There has to be a balance between teacher talk and student talk," he said.

The school has done a better job of tracking students who leave Cyprus High School, enroll elsewhere and graduate so those students are not counted as dropouts from Cyprus.

The school also strives to be culturally responsive, he said. About 40 percent of Cyprus students are Latino. The school's Latinos in Action program has proven to be a popular support. A class on the history of Latin America is under development.

This milestone is not an "end game," McDaniel said. The work to improve school attendance and fight apathy are ongoing.

Still, administrators plan to meet with their teachers and celebrate the achievement.

Statewide, Utah's public high school graduation rate has increased five years running, according to the new report.

Eighty-six percent of students who entered traditional public high schools or public charter schools as freshmen four years earlier graduated last spring, which represents a 5 percent increase since 2013.

Moreover, there were year-to-year gains across most ethnic, income and English learner groups. Asian students were the only ethnic group not to experience an increase, but their 89 percent graduation rate held constant from the previous year and remained the highest among all demographic subgroups.

The data also shows five-year gains across all demographic subgroups, with American Indians and Latino students gaining the most ground over the past year with 4 percent and 3 percent graduation rate increases, respectively.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson said it is exciting to be part of a public education system that is improving over time.

“I am grateful to the parents and teachers who are working with their children and students to prepare them for their first steps into their adult lives. I am also proud of our students who are picking up the skills and discipline they need to succeed. We look forward to building on these strengths,” Dickson said in a prepared statement.

According to recent research by the Alliance for Excellent Education, increasing Utah's high school graduation rate to 90 percent would lead to more education and higher incomes for those graduates, which would translate into higher rates of home buying and boost income tax collections.

Sixty percent of the additional high school graduates would enroll in higher education, leading to a roughly $23.2 million increase in annual income for these graduates within 10 years, the research states.

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Some 40,100 students graduated from Utah public high schools last spring, with Carbon, Davis, Richfield and Ridgeline high schools with the highest rates at 98 percent or above among traditional high schools statewide.

Cache District, meanwhile, had the highest districtwide graduation rate at 95 percent, with Ridgeline High leading the way.

Among public charter schools, the Academy for Math Engineering and Science, the Northern Utah Academy of Math Engineering and Science, and the Utah County Academy of Science each had graduation rates of at least 98 percent or above.