While the Milford School District’s graduation rate has exceeded the state average for the 2012-2013 school year − with the district seeing a 4 percent increase over the 2011-2012 school year − dropout rates for the district did not see the same improvement.

While the Milford School District’s graduation rate has exceeded the state average for the 2012-2013 school year − with the district seeing a 4 percent increase over the 2011-2012 school year −  dropout rates for the district did not see the same improvement.

An annual report recently released by the State Board of Education showed the statewide average for dropouts has decreased by 1 percent in the 2012-2013 school year. Milford’s dropout rate, while it did see improvement from the previous year, was nearly 1 percent higher than the state average.

According to the state’s annual study, dropout rates are calculated by taking the total enrollment of school’s students in grades nine through 12, and dividing it by the number of students who dropped out. The dropout rate offers a snap shot of one year within a particular district.

Milford School District recorded 40 dropouts in the 2012-2013 school year, a decrease from the previous year’s 67 dropouts. The 2012-2013 dropouts still represent 3.7 percent of the 1,067 ninth- through 12th-grade students registered that school year. According to the report, the state average was 2.9 percent for the 2012-2013 school year, a 1 percent decrease from the previous year’s 3.9 percent.

“I think we need to improve [those numbers], but it’s not necessarily indicative of the kids in the building,” said Milford Senior High School Principal David Carter.

Although dropout rates are calculated using the entire high school population, the graduation rate is calculated by tracking a group of students, referred to as a cohort, through all four years of high school, and the percentage represents that portion of the cohort that graduates within the four-year time period.

Milford’s 2012-2013 graduation rate increased by 4.1 percent over the previous year, and while its recorded graduation rate of 83.6 percent is higher than the state average, Carter said he hopes to see improvement in that area as well.

“You always want to have your graduation rate in the 90s,” he said. “83 percent is far from 95 or 100 percent. It’s OK. It has grown, but it’s definitely something I’m not satisfied with.”

Carter said the improvements in dropout rates and graduation rates within the district, while still not up to his standards, can be attributed to a variety of services and programs offered within the school district. School counselors, Wellness Center services, the student assistance team, Communities in Schools program, weekly attendance meetings and working with the discipline dean are all collaborative efforts that encourage school staff to work with students on an individual level to encourage post-secondary success.

“It’s not just about coming in and being good at ELA, math, social studies. It’s about teaching that young person to be a complete human being. … At the high school level, you’re truly preparing students for life. This is the last step before they’re projected into the world for college and careers. And you only have four years to do it,” Carter said. “We continually look for best practices to lower the number of dropouts and increase the graduation rates. That’s something you should continually do as a district.”

Milford School District’s Director of Teaching and Learning Travis Moorman said the district’s improved graduation rates are a result of statewide and district efforts, especially in coordination with guidance counselor staff members, to encourage students and provide a variety of options for high school seniors.

“As a district, we’ve really pushed post-graduate success and our guidance staff at the high school works with our students and provides them a lot of research that shows that a person’s income is guaranteed to increase with the amount of education they receive,” Moorman said. “With the Race to the Top initiative from the state, we can go right down to the students and see how they’re doing with all aspects to their education career.”

Student success plans and data provided through the Race to the Top initiative, which also established the LEAD Academy, which provides mentoring and leadership skills to students, may have helped the 2012-2013 district improvements in dropout and graduation rates, but Moorman admitted that sometimes it’s difficult to reach those students who have already made a decision to end their education early.

“In a perfect world, we’d love to get an exit survey to get an indication of why students would choose not to complete high school,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just hard to track kids. Some kids, we struggle to stay on top of – attendance rates are already low, and once they reach that age, it’s out of our control to get them to come to school on a regular basis.”

And while the district may not be able to emphasize the importance of education to every at-risk student, Moorman said the district will continue to provide support systems to assist students if they’re willing to give it a try.

“We want them to understand the options that they have and that their education is a main key to breaking out of a situation that they feel stuck in. It’s a key to unlock a lot of doors,” he said. “Some kids just don’t buy in to the support we provide and it’s unfortunate.”