PMS satisfied with projected grad rates

By Eric Butler: PNT staff writer

The Portales Municipal Schools system isn’t joining a recent wave of criticism toward the New Mexico Department of Education over the release of tentative graduate rates. With rates exceeding the national average, Portales doesn’t have much of a reason.

But other schools in eastern New Mexico have lower marks and aren’t happy about the preliminary numbers.

The state’s Public Education Secretary, Veronica Garcia, released a statement late last week saying that numbers released in August would probably go up when the certified graduation rates are announced Friday.

According to marks based upon information supplied by school districts, Garcia said, the state graduation rate is 54 percent. That is based on the most recent senior class and the original size of the class when students were freshmen.

The Albuquerque and Las Cruces school systems have voiced criticism of the low marks for their high schools.

School administrators in Clovis and Portales, however, with respective graduation rates of 78.8 percent and 80 percent, think the preliminary numbers are fairly accurate.

“The best we can figure out is that was right on target,” said Clovis schools superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm. “They worked with us while it was going, so there was no surprise there.”

Portales superintendent Randy Fowler said it’s typical for school systems to at least challenge what they perceive as incorrect numbers. That won’t happen from his quarter this time, though.

“If they’re questionable, you do have time to get them changed,” Fowler said. “We didn’t challenge it, so we feel like it’s going to be pretty accurate.”

The national average, by current methodology, is 70 percent.

Though each were in charge of school systems that did better, both Seidenwurm and Fowler thinks the rates can be higher.

“Of course. We have a project in all our secondary schools right now that’s called ‘High Schools That Work,’” Seidenwurm said. “It’s intense, deep work. It’s nothing that’s anything new; it’s just a package to put it in around relationships with kids.”

“We hope to improve that number always, but it’s very difficult with the situations we find our students in with families and etcetera,” Fowler said. “We try to keep their interest and help them realize the relevance of getting a diploma.”

Other local schools can identify with the plight of Albuquerque Public Schools, which scored a mere 46 percent graduation rate.

Tucumcari’s preliminary rate was 53.6 percent, for instance. Tucumcari superintendent Aaron McKinney could not be reached for comment.

In Dora, superintendent Steve Barron was shocked to see the graduation score for his system at 66.5 percent. Barron said he anticipates the final score to be 87 percent at the end of the week.

“I know the first time they did it, it was definitely wrong. We thought, ‘That cannot be true,’” he said. “So we called (the state) and sent some stuff in.”

Although Dora’s numbers might be increased significantly, Barron isn’t happy about how the percentages are determined. If a student moves and then drops out, that reflects poorly on Dora’s graduation rates, even though the fault might lie with the other district, he said.

Greg Fisher, director for the Roosevelt County Community Development Corporation, said a low number isn’t just a matter of pride for a town whose school system receives one. It can be indicative of a work force that may not be attractive to incoming businesses.

“The goal is to keep kids in some kind of educational framework, whether it be vocational technical, whether it be through apprenticeships,” Fisher said. “If our kids can’t grow into adults and do the basics like reading, writing, arithmetic, using the computer, knowing how to provide customer service, dress appropriately for the job, all of those things, then we’re going to have a difficult situation.”