KANKAKEE — For several years, Kankakee High School’s graduation rate rose significantly. Last school year, though, it took a dive.
The school district’s top official says she believes the drop is temporary.
In 2014, 74 percent of Kankakee High students graduated within four years, according to the Illinois Report Cards website. That number rose to 92 percent in 2018.
This put the school on par with nearby schools in higher-income towns. About 78 percent of Kankakee High’s students are classified as low income.
In 2019, Kankakee’s graduation rate plunged to 77 percent, according to recently released numbers.
“I’m hoping it’s a one-year thing,” Superintendent Genevra Walters said, adding she has reason to believe that it will be. At the end of the 2019 class’ freshman year, just 68 percent of students were considered on track to graduate within four years, Walters said. That differs with the 2018 class, which had an on-track rate of 82 percent at the end of its freshman year.
The 2020 class had an on-track rate of 87 percent at the closing of freshman year, which Walters believes means the graduation rate will move up again this school year. In recent years, the high school has put a greater emphasis on first-year students through its freshman academy, helping them transition to a high school environment.
Walters said the school district missed an opportunity to substantially increase the on-track rate for the 2019 class.
“We really knew the class was going to struggle because it struggled in freshman year. I remember those kids the freshman year. They were saying those kids were smart, but not focused. People were all concerned about the way they functioned in school,” Walters said. “I don’t think we are going to see a graduation rate that low next year. We knew we had to provide a lot of support for the 2019 class. We weren’t as successful as we would have liked to be.”
She said the only way to respond to low on-track freshman numbers is to give the students extra support the minute they start sophomore year. She recalled telling the administrative team to give the 2019 class such assistance in their sophomore year. In response, the school was able to increase the on-track rate somewhat but not nearly enough, she said.
In 2019, the graduation rates for both Bradley-Bourbonnais Community and Manteno high schools were 92 percent, which is about what they usually are. Bradley-Bourbonnais and Manteno have low-income rates of 42 percent and 31 percent, respectively.