ATWATER — Atwater High School's graduation rate is one of the highest in the state compared with similar schools, state Department of Education data shows.
In the 2011-12 school year, the latest figures available, 97.3 percent of Atwater High students graduated, exceeding state averages by at least 15 percent.
Atwater High School Principal Alan Peterson said the strong graduation rate is a great indication that the school staff is making a strong connection with students and providing them with different avenues to get their diplomas.
"Teachers come to the job expecting to make a difference, not just hoping to," Peterson said. "We try to keep things fresh, on the cutting edge. We are winning."
Peterson said Atwater came in second in a state Department of Education ranking of large-sized schools receiving federal Title I funding. Hawthorne Math and Science Academy in the Los Angeles area had a 97.8 percent graduation rate.
Merced Union High School District Trustee Dave Honey called the high graduation rate fantastic, amazing and impressive. The encouragement of students by staff members, teachers and administrators is paying off, he added.
Scott Scambray, district superintendent, said Atwater's graduation rate is great news. He said school spirit is sky-high and the momentum has been building for about four years.
"It's a complete team effort," Scambray said. "We get students involved and make the curriculum relevant. A really big key is kids are involved in all sorts of activities."
Tammie Calzadillas, assistant superintendent of educational services, said each comprehensive high school in the district is exceeding the state average by a minimum of 15 percent.
Other district graduation rates include Buhach Colony High School, 93.9 percent; Golden Valley High School, 93.1 percent; Livingston High School, 95.6 percent and Merced High School, 93.4 percent, for a district average of 92.8 percent.
The national graduation rate average is 78.2 percent, Calzadillas said.
"The data speaks to the simple fact that our schools are offering students something that they need and that they see as important," Calzadillas said. "As a result, the students continue to come back day after day until they graduate. Every high school in MUHSD has made concerted efforts over the past five years to actively engage all students in school."
She said when students are involved in sports, activities, band and clubs they report increased satisfaction with the overall school experience. Successful students are more likely to stay in school.
Teachers systematically employ effective instructional techniques to ensure every student understands subject matter content, Calzadillas said. Students need opportunities to prepare themselves for college and career readiness.
This includes agricultural programs, an engineering academy, health services courses, culinary arts opportunities and other career-technical education classes.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.