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BuzzALACHUA COUNTY – The overall graduation rate at Alachua County’s seven high schools rose by four percentile points this year, from 83 percent in 2010 to 87 percent in 2011, with five of the seven schools showing gains.

Using the National Governor’s Association (NGA) formula, the stricter formula now used by the state to calculate graduation rates, the percentage of students graduating on time was up at Gainesville High (79 percent to 83 percent), Eastside (84 percent to 88 percent), Buchholz (88 percent to 92 percent), Santa Fe (82 percent to 86 percent), Professional Academies Magnet @ Loften (59 percent to 82 percent). Hawthorne fell by one percentile point (71 percent to 70 percent). And Newberry High’s rate dropped from 89 percent to 84 percent.

District officials cite a number of strategies they’ve used to boost graduation, including the expansion of various credit retrieval programs for students who fall behind on their credits after failing one or more courses. Those programs have become even more critical since state budget cuts have led to the loss of the seven period day and summer school for high schools students.

“Without that seventh period and the chance to earn credits during the summer, there’s very little margin for error,” said Sandy Hollinger, the district’s deputy superintendent for instruction and student services. “Students who fail just one course sometime during high school have to make up that credit if they’re going to graduate on time, and we’re helping them do that as much as possible.”

District officials also point to the strategy of encouraging students to take on more challenging work, such as Advanced Placement courses.

“We’ve found that the skills they develop as a result of taking those advanced courses help students in their other classes,” said Hollinger.

The overall graduation rate reported by the Department of Education for Alachua County rose from 76 percent in 2010 to 78 percent this year. That figure includes the graduation rates of more than 200 students in alternative educational settings run by outside organizations, such as the SAI Tech Charter School at the Gainesville Job Corps, the Gainesville Wilderness Institute and the Juvenile Detention Center. Although most of those students are not from Alachua County, the state includes their graduation statistics in the district’s overall rate because the facilities are located within the county.

The overall rate also includes about 50 students in Alachua County’s special needs schools and programs, such as Sidney Lanier School, A Quinn Jones and the Hospital/Homebound program.