Our Class of 2020—fresh off the pandemic shock that shifted them to virtual learning and the disappointment of no in-person graduation ceremony—still managed to set a Tacoma Public Schools record.
The 89.9% graduation rate for the Class of 2020 marks the 10th straight year of graduation rate increases for Tacoma Public Schools, according to rates published Dec. 16 by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Tacoma’s graduation rate also continued a trend of beating the state average, which came in at 82.9% for 2020.
“I can’t imagine a more stressful experience for last year’s seniors—and for our high school staff teams who had to shepherd those students along,” said Superintendent Carla Santorno. “It was a shock to be thrown into a virtual experience on March 13, and to get so many students to the finish line was incredible.”
Santorno praised the leadership of high school principals, the hard work of teachers and guidance counselors and the support of caring staff members at all grade levels for looking out for “every student, every day” during those first months of the pandemic.
“As I have said before, we can get caught up in numbers when we talk about graduation rates. But what I focus on the most—what really moves me—is that every decimal point we improve means another student whose life we have reset on a new trajectory of success, not just in school but in life,” Santorno said.
After the release of the 2012 graduation data, the School Board set a bold goal – graduate 85% of Tacoma students by 2020. How bold? As recently as 2010, Tacoma high schools graduated 59.2% of students. Tacoma’s high schools reached the School Board’s goal with the Class of 2016.
Getting Class of 2020 to the finish line
Stadium High School Principal Shannon Marshall said all high schools had many students who needed to finish their coursework, make up credits and complete their required High School and Beyond Plans if they hoped to graduate as a member of the Class of 2020—and do so while adapting to working online.
With the suddenness of the shift six weeks into the final semester, seniors faced social and emotional challenges of lost interactions with classmates and hearing mixed messages about how long virtual learning might last.
“Here at Stadium, and I know across the district, we had so many seniors dealing with the emotional hardship of losing major pieces of their senior year. No prom. No graduation at the Tacoma Dome. It was heartbreaking,” she said.
Marshall cited the relentless work of teachers and counselors and assistant principals who called students and parents repeatedly, enlisted interpreters to engage with parents who didn’t speak English, connected students with online credit retrieval courses and even knocked on doors at students’ homes to get the final necessary graduation requirements finished.
Teachers worked with students who wanted opportunities to improve their grades—even after the state Superintendent of Public Instruction announced near the end of the school year that no student could receive a failing course grade due to the pandemic.
The state’s window for helping students complete all their graduation requirements to qualify for the Class of 2020 didn’t close until October. Marshall noted that her staff at Stadium—and high school staffs across the district—worked right up to the deadline helping students.
“This October, we had a straight A student in Running Start, who needed a credit. We got the student connected to a class in our Edgenuity platform. It came right down to the wire,” Marshall said. “There are a lot of stories out there like that.”
About Tacoma Schools
Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...