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All student groups continue steady climb in graduation rates

Grand Rapids — Grand Rapids Public Schools got good news this week when the Michigan Department of Education released the 2019-2020 graduation rates.

The district saw its rates rise for the ninth straight year. It also saw a nice jump from 76.2 percent in 2018-2019 to 80.92 percent last year.

In 2012, GRPS was graduating just 44.56 percent of its high school students. 

Since then, the improvements from year-to-year have been steady – 3 to 5 percent most years, though 2015 to 2016 saw a dramatic jump from 56.2 percent to 65.54 percent. But over time, those incremental increases have led to a 36.36 percentage point increase in graduation rates in less than a decade.

In a statement, Superintendent Leadriane Roby said: “The significant increase in our graduation rates is symbolic of the overall transformation success story that is gaining GRPS state and national attention.”

That success story, said district spokesperson John Helmholdt, has its roots in the GRPS Transformation Plan Version 3.0, approved unanimously by the Grand Rapids Board of Education in December 2012 with implementation beginning the following school year.

That plan had a number of goals, including strengthening and improving academic achievement. Indeed, the first two points under that goal were “increasing the district graduation rate” and “reducing the district drop-out rate.” GRPS’ drop-out rate last year was 7.56 percent, below the state average of 7.77 percent.

In addition to the guiding framework of the plan, Helmholdt told SNN, “Strong leadership at the board, district, and high school level coupled with rockstar teachers and support staff played a huge role in supporting the success of our high school students.”

Though all groups have seen steady increases since 2012, the biggest gainers in that time have been the district’s Asian students who were graduating at just a 37.5 percent clip in 2012 and now are above 95 percent. But all racial and ethnic subgroups saw substantial gains over that time, as well as economically disadvantaged students and English-language learners. 

At an 80.92 percent overall graduation rate, GRPS is right around the state average of 82.07 percent and has Kent ISD’s overall 86.08 percent rate in its sights.

Helmholdt noted that City High Middle School, C.A. Frost Environmental Science Middle High School and Grand Rapids University Preparatory Academy all had 100% graduation rates.

GRPS Grad Rates Breakdown Chart

YearOverallAfrican AmericanHispanic / LatinoAsianWhiteEconomically DisadvantagedEnglish Language Learners
201244.56%40.59%42.62%37.5%53.36%40.07%32.61%
202080.92%72.26%84.64%>95%86.58%78.83%79.07%
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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids, Kelloggsville, is lead reporter for Grand Rapids and also is the point person for the SNN Facebook and Twitter feeds. He hails from Exeter, Ontario, but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985. He is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop! Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both freelance writing and public relations work, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level. In the summer of 2019, he began his own freelance writing and communications business. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio

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