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SchoolWatch: Despite the Almeda Fire and a pandemic, Phoenix-Talent Schools show strong progress toward graduation

The COVID-19 upended education in 2020, but numbers released by the Oregon Department of Education this week showed a few bright spots.

Posted: Oct 7, 2021 11:59 AM
Updated: Oct 7, 2021 4:41 PM

PHOENIX, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Education released its "at-a-glance" profiles of school districts across the state this week, including key numbers on the number of students who graduated this year and those on-track to graduate in the years ahead. Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on performance over the past school year.

However, there were a few bright spots to emerge from the numbers. Despite both the pandemic and a wildfire that displaced many students and their families, the Phoenix-Talent School District kept pace with its graduation rate and surpassed neighboring districts with the percentage of students on-track to graduate.

On-time and on-track graduation rates

  • Oregon statewide | On-track: 74% | On-time: 83%
  • Ashland SD | On-track: 74% | On-time: 94%
  • Phoenix-Talent SD | On-track: 87% | On-time: 85%
  • Klamath County SD | On-track: 79% | On-time: 84%
  • Brookings-Harbor SD | On-track: 69% | On-time: 84%
  • Three Rivers SD | On-track: 67% | On-time: 84%
  • Eagle Point SD | On-track: 69% | On-time: 83%
  • Medford SD | On-track: 63% | On-time: 83%
  • Grants Pass SD | On-track: 77% | On-time: 78%
  • Central Point SD | On-track: 59% | On-time: 78%
  • Rogue River SD | On-track: 51% | On-time: 74%
  • Klamath Falls City SD | On-track: 48% | On-time: 73%

For context, Oregon's average on-time graduation rate for the 2020-21 school year is 83 percent, and 74 percent of students are on-track to graduate throughout the state, on average. The first figure looks at the share of seniors who graduated on-time in the class of 2021, while the latter looks at how many credits the freshman class completed.

Phoenix-Talent Schools slightly surpassed the state graduation average, with 85 percent of seniors graduating on time. But its on-track to graduate rate of 87 percent well outdoes both the state average and the rates of neighboring districts, even if it is lower this year than it was the year prior.

"We had tremendous setbacks with the fire and the pandemic and online learning," said Superintendent Brent Barry. "But we were one of the schools that was able to go two full quarters in-person for our high school, and we saw those number drastically increase on credits earned — which just shows you the value of in-person learning."

After the Almeda Fire left numerous students without stable homes to stay or study in, Phoenix-Talent received a special waiver from the state allowing it to resume in-person learning. The District still approached its return slowly and cautiously, trying to ensure that students and staff would be safe on-site.

Barry said that schools track these numbers all school year, so ODE's report is not a surprise. High school freshmen who earn six credits are most likely to graduate on time, and the District pays close attention to how they are performing.

"Our students are earning this, they are getting the job done and doing the work that gets them over the finish line and graduation — or meeting that target of on-track graduation," Barry said. "So the persistence, the resiliency of our kids is just simply amazing."

The support, engagement, and determination of families and staff has been key as well, Barry added.

"That started from week one, because the Almeda Fire really turned everything on its head," Barry said. "We communicated with our families and got ahold of all of them within the first couple weeks, which I think carried over throughout the year — once we started to get into school and then get into in-person learning, those relationships and communication avenues were pretty solid for our staff."

Barry added that Phoenix High School's graduation rate for the class of 2021 was actually 93 percent, but ODE's numbers for the District include Armadillo Tech Charter School, which had a graduation rate of 52 percent.

Of the major school districts in southern Oregon, only Ashland Public Schools had a higher on-time graduation rate than Phoenix-Talent, with an impressive 94 percent. But Ashland's on-track to graduate rate is level with the state average of 74 percent.

Statewide, ODE noted a decline in on-track rates of nearly 12 percent since the 2018-19 school year, which the agency interpreted as a need for increased support to students as they resume full-time and in-person instruction. The on-time graduation rate has essentially plateaued compared to 2020 stats reported earlier this year.

“The 2020-21 school year was unlike any other our state has ever faced, but the strength, resiliency and resolve of students, families and educators saw us through,” said ODE director Colt Gill. “We’re relying on that same strength and resolve during our first few months of school as our educators focus on minimizing COVID-19 and connecting with students to support their mental health.

"Oregon’s schools are ready, eager and committed to serving our students. Data is key to tell us how to better invest and serve students and we look forward to using this year’s profiles to continue focusing on diversifying and strengthening our educator workforce and providing all students the supports they need to graduate.”

One other statistic that ODE highlighted was a 9.5 percent increase in the number of counselors and psychologists employed by schools and districts, which the agency says reflects an increasing focus on students' social, emotional, and mental well-being.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 352026

Reported Deaths: 4185
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah55306692
Washington38321316
Marion36352445
Clackamas29350304
Lane27309299
Jackson22783304
Deschutes19886124
Umatilla14286144
Linn12617120
Douglas11918241
Josephine9292195
Yamhill8584111
Klamath7765111
Polk719680
Malheur552774
Benton537630
Coos492593
Columbia375743
Jefferson366351
Union316247
Lincoln313338
Wasco282640
Crook277646
Clatsop240729
Baker199228
Tillamook194929
Hood River190137
Morrow183023
Curry178723
Harney110225
Grant98012
Lake89711
Wallowa67312
Gilliam1494
Sherman1463
Wheeler1031
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 4825708

Reported Deaths: 70829
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles147768626443
Riverside3704095008
San Diego3649124169
San Bernardino3574215597
Orange3234075528
Sacramento1584372283
Fresno1451192063
Santa Clara1450041895
Kern1449141615
Alameda1202831381
San Joaquin1022501721
Ventura1008011165
Contra Costa99612995
Stanislaus856421319
Tulare79513958
San Francisco54220644
San Mateo53970622
Monterey50772583
Solano45898340
Santa Barbara45005522
Merced42047579
Sonoma40822402
Placer39118420
Imperial35794764
Kings32587315
San Luis Obispo29797331
Madera23680281
Butte23649265
Shasta23544341
Santa Cruz20928218
Yolo20240248
Marin17644243
El Dorado17083149
Sutter13847172
Napa12855100
Yuba1000882
Tehama9406107
Humboldt9171108
Nevada909490
Mendocino757686
Lassen749946
San Benito741372
Tuolumne680893
Lake6565104
Amador540364
Siskiyou445842
Glenn433632
Calaveras385180
Del Norte357141
Colusa302818
Inyo203540
Mono16565
Plumas16046
Mariposa130815
Trinity86711
Modoc6758
Unassigned1820
Sierra1810
Alpine1030
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