ANDERSON — All but three public school districts or schools serving Madison County and surrounding communities achieved graduation rates in 2019 that exceeded the state average of 87%.

Though one private school achieved a 100% graduation rate, about half of the schools of all types decreased over last year.

“Every day, school administrators and classroom teachers across our state dedicate themselves to academically preparing our students for success,” said Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick. “There is still work to be done, and the department will continue to commit its resources to local districts, working together to ensure our children graduate prepared for life beyond high school.”

Liberty Christian’s high school has achieved what to most educators is the Holy Grail of education, a perfect graduation rate, exceeding the state’s 92% rate for non-public schools.

Liberty Christian Superintendent Jay McCurry said he believes the school was able to grow its graduation rate from 96% in 2018 to 100% in 2019, in part, because of its small student population. According to the Indiana Department of Education website, the school’s total population for grades 9 through 12 is 139.

“I don’t want any student to be an outlier. I don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks,” he said.

One way of preventing that, McCurry said, is by building relationships with the school’s most vulnerable students.

“We have worked really hard on an individualized focus with our students,” he said. “Walking alongside every student and having support and resources they need for success helps. At Liberty, we’re a family. A lot of our students come from broken homes where there’s no support. We want to exemplify, ‘What does a family look like?’ When one member of a family hurts, we all help.”

Liberty Christian’s high school principal, Adam Freeman, said administrators and teachers employ a number of strategies, including check-ins every two weeks with students, to ensure no one falls through the cracks. In addition, school officials meet with students quarterly to discuss where they are on their graduation track and post-graduation plans.

“We also loop parents into those conversations when we have struggling students,” Freeman said. “Families are really comfortable to say this is what we’re seeing at home and this is what we need to do to bridge that gap.”

But Anderson High School didn’t fare nearly as well. Its graduation rate dropped from 94% in 2018 to 80% in 2019.

Anderson Community Schools Superintendent Timothy Smith said he believes the steep decrease in his district’s rate actually is due to a change in the form used to report graduations. He said the Indiana Department of Education reduced the rate following an audit.

In the district’s defense, Smith said, it’s a problem experienced by several school districts throughout the state because IDOE did not properly communicate the reporting change. ACS is teaming up with the other districts to appeal this year’s determination, but IDOE already has denied an individual request for grace, he said.

In the end, however, the problem may not amount to anything in regard to the district’s accountability grade because IDOE and Gov. Eric Holcomb have said they will hold school corporations harmless this year because of problems with the new standardized test.

“We’re hoping none of this will matter, in the long run,” Smith said.

Though Frankton-Lapel Community Schools operates two high schools, only one, Lapel Jr.- Sr.-High School, experienced a continued drop in its graduation rate. The high school went from a 100% graduation rate in 2017 to 96% in 2018 and 92% in 2019.

Superintendent Bobby Fields did not return calls for comment.

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.

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