This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

More students are graduating from high school in Caldwell County than before, according to data released by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction on Thursday.

The Caldwell County Schools’ graduation rate was 89.4 percent for students entering in 2009-10 and graduating in 2012-13. That’s up from 84.6 in 2011-12, and higher than the state rate of 82.5 percent.

Each public high school in the county saw its graduation rate rise from 2011-12 to 2012-13. The rates at each school were also higher than the state rate.Caldwell Early College High School and South Caldwell High School had the highest graduation rates in the school system in 2012-13, with rates at both schools at more than 95 percent.

When the graduation rate is higher than 95 percent, the Department of Public Instruction does not provide more specific data.

The Early College’s graduation rate was also higher than 95 percent in 2011-12, while South’s rate rose from 92.2 percent in 2011-12.

Hibriten High School’s graduation rate increased the most, from 83.6 percent in 2011-12 to 90.2 percent in 2012-13.

West Caldwell High School’s rate rose from 82.4 percent in 2011-12 to 87.5 in 2012-13.

In addition to being higher than it was the year before, the graduation rate in Caldwell County has seen massive leaps since 2002-03, the first year the data was collected.

That year, more than 30 percent of students in the county did not graduate in four years. The graduation rate in the county was 65.7 percent, with rates at each individual high school no higher than 68 percent.

Caldwell County Schools superintendent Steve Stone said he was “absolutely delighted” with this year’s graduation rates. He credited the higher rates to a number of efforts, from creative classroom instruction to the work of nonprofit organizations such as Communities in Schools, as well as an overall cultural shift within the county.

“I think we’ve been talking about it, we’ve been focused on it, and as a community – I think the community has joined in that conversation,” Stone said. “I think parents now know that it is not a good decision to let their child drop out of school. I think parents are stepping up more and saying, ‘No, that’s not an option.’”

Mike Peake, the principal at South Caldwell High School, said schools across the county have worked to build stronger relationships with students and parents. Peake cited the work of teachers, administrators, guidance counselors and the district’s at-risk teams and dropout-prevention programs.

“There’s … a whole gamut of adults who are reaching, doing everything they can to reach the needs of the students here,” Peake said.

For the 2011-12 school year, females in the Caldwell County Schools graduated at slightly higher rates than males. Across the school system, 90.4 percent of females graduated in four years, compared to 88.4 percent of males. The graduation rate was higher for females, or close to equal across both genders, at every school except the Middle College. There, 68.4 percent of females graduated in four years compared to 94.1 percent of males.

District-wide graduation rates divided by race showed high performance among minority students, with 91.9 percent of black students, more than 95 percent of Asian students and more than 95 percent of Hispanic students graduating in four years, compared to 88.3 percent of white students.

The state’s rate rose by 2.1 percent, from 80.4 percent in 2011-12 to 82.5 percent.

Most school systems in neighboring counties also outpaced the state rate. The graduation rate was 87.9 percent in Burke County, 85.2 percent in Alexander County, 90.1 percent in Wilkes County, 87.1 percent in Avery County and 87.6 percent in Watauga County.