LOS LUNAS — Graduation rates in Los Lunas Schools remain higher than the state average, while those for School of Dreams Academy stay inconsistent due to smaller class sizes.

However, both districts continue to strive to encourage students to stick it out to graduation.

“You really give a lot of the credit to our teachers and the counselors at the high schools,” said Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero. “They start to build a relationship as soon as they come in as freshman and really try to maintain that relationship all the way through.”

The entire Los Lunas Schools district saw an overall 2021 graduation rate of 79 percent, according to the state with Los Lunas and Valencia High Schools boasting rates above 80 percent. The alternative high school in the district, Century High School, came in at 42 percent.

The district has improved its rate since a small drop to below 75 percent in 2018, and has consistently held a graduation rate higher than the state average, which was about 77 percent for the last graduating class.

Romero said the district aims to keep students engaged by improving communication with families so students don’t fall behind.

“Sometimes when you do have a student who falls off track, that’s why,” Romero said. “There’s not a safety net in place, so I feel that’s really important.”

He spoke about the importance of alternative ways to receive credits for graduation and extracurricular activities to keep students wanting to continue their education, hopefully increasing the graduation rate in the long-run.

“There are 20 percent on average who are not graduating, so we need to be able to find ways to make sure we are able to keep those students going to school,” Romero said.

Source: New Mexico Public Education Department

School of Dreams Academy

The School of Dreams Academy typically sees graduation rates both more volatile than and often below the state average, which SODA Superintendent Mike Ogas says is due to the small class sizes.

“A school, our size, let’s say a graduation class of between 35 and 50, one or two students if they drop off or move on and are not accounted for, can make a big difference (in the overall rate),” Ogas said.

For the class of 2021, SODA had a graduation rate of about 66 percent, a small drop from the 72 percent the school graduated in 2020.

In the past five years, the school has remained below the state average, with the exception of the 2018 graduating class.

Facility improvements and increases in enrollment have Ogas optimistic the graduation rate for the only charter school in Valencia County could be on the rise in the next few years.

“I feel deep down that our enrollment has substantially been going up, especially at the younger ages,” Ogas said. “So, I think as those kids filter into eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th grade, we’re going to start seeing an increase in our (graduation rate).”

For the past two years, as schools started to further integrate online learning into classrooms across the state as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, SODA saw an increase in enrollment of about 140 students, bringing its overall Pre K to 12th grade enrollment numbers to about 560.

Ogas added the school will continue to incentivize students to accelerate learning in subjects they have a knack for so they can take advantage of the schools early college opportunities as they approach graduation.

“I think the kids that get enrolled in early college courses, the research shows, have a higher tendency to graduate later on. So, we continue to focus on that,”  Ogas said.

Source: New Mexico Public Education Department

The New Mexico Public Education Department publicly released graduation rates  for all school districts and high schools within the state last month. The data can be viewed on its website at webnew.ped.state.nm.us/bureaus/accountability/graduation/.

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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.