ROCK SPRINGS – For several years one of the biggest focuses in Sweetwater County School District No. 1 has been graduation rates and increasing those rates. Recently, the district and Rock Springs High School reached a level which has not been seen.
The National average recently broke the 80 percent mark hitting 81 percent in 2013. While SWCSD No. 1 seen increases in the entire district jumping from 75.56 percent in 2013 to 76.52 percent, Rock Springs High School had the biggest increase. This year, the high school moved above 80 percent and the National average reaching 83.55 percent. This was an improvement of 5.35 percent from last year. According to RSHS Principal Darrin Peppard this is the highest rate hit in the school’s history.
Peppard has been at the high school for nine years with this his fourth as principal. Recently, he sat down with Sweetwater NOW to discuss the graduation rates and what has been successful.
“Myself and the entire staff of Rock Springs High School are thrilled to see the school’s strong improvements that ultimately benefit our students.”, Peppard said, “Our graduation rate has steadily increased since 2008, in addition to our steadily increasing student population of about 75 students each year.”
With a focus on getting graduation rates up, RSHS made several changes. Peppard said they cannot point to just one change but it has been several changes made over the past few years which have all played an important role.
One of the biggest changes made was RSHS re-aligned the counseling staff. Peppard said they added a counselor specifically to help and focus on freshman. He said they know the most important and crucial time in a student’s success is their freshman year. With the new counselor, it allows the school to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
It also helps to make sure the young students are appropriately placed as well as developing more of a working relationship with the students. This includes talking to them, finding out what their interests are and what some of their future plans include.
“The counseling department follows up with all students, focusing on individual student needs starting in 9th grade all the way up to the day they walk across that stage,” Peppard said.
Another change Peppard said definitely played a roll was the career academies. He said the academies are one tool which has kept students engaged in their learning. He also pointed at the work of the student council and the Renaissance Program. Peppard said keeping students engaged and excited about learning is a key for almost all the new programs. Disciplinary action has been the normal in the past. These programs bring more positive incentives for student success rather than threats of discipline.
With all of these things, Rock Springs High School has made the AP Honor Roll two consecutive years. RSHS has also continued a partnership with Western Wyoming Community College with students utilizing concurrent and dual enrollment, as well as certification programs. This partnership has not only been a positive for their education now but has also shown them the importance of continuing their education while getting them off to a great start on doing this.
Another focus the district and the school has had is getting parents involved in their child’s learning. Peppard said getting and keeping parents involved is “critical” to everything they do. He said they have worked hard to make parents feel more welcome to ask questions and be more involved in the education process. While he noted they still have a lot of work to do as a school and a staff, he encouraged parents to also take more of an active role in their children’s education.
While academies, programs, parents and keeping students engaged have all played a role, Peppard said the staff has played the biggest role in the success. He said the teachers care about all the students but have really fought for those on the bubble, driving them and keeping the inspired.
“I think a large part of our growth at RSHS is the quality instruction and relationship building between staff and students, eliminating students falling through the cracks…our staff does an excellent job at supporting the students with the programs we have in place,” he said.
Even with the growth seen in the past couple of years, Peppard knows there is still a big hill in front of them.
“We are doing a lot of things right but there is still things we can do better,” Peppard said.