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September 27, 2023

PVUSD high schools see record-high graduation rates

Late in 2022, when officials from Pajaro Valley Unified School District took a look at its high school seniors, they noticed a disturbing trend: many were not meeting their graduation requirements and were at risk of not receiving their diplomas.

And so Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez got to work, deploying an all-encompassing response that included principals, counselors, parents and students.

“We said, we are not going to have that be the future for our children, for our seniors,” Rodriguez said.

And the response worked. All of the district’s comprehensive high schools saw record-high graduation rates this year.

Pajaro Valley High reached 86% in 2019, which then was a peak. But this year the school saw 95% of its students receive a diploma. Watsonville High’s peak of 92% in 2019—after hovering for years in the mid-80s—was surpassed this year with 94%.

Aptos High saw 97% of its class graduate, after peaking at 94% last year.

AHS Principal Alison Hanks-Sloan said the number came thanks to a “team effort.” 

That included the teachers who were willing to give students opportunities to make up missed assignments and offer other recovery opportunities.

At one point, Hanks-Sloan said, about 50 students needed some form of credit recovery. Another 20 needed other forms of support such as socio-emotional counseling. 

It also meant offering an encouraging environment, especially for students who were disheartened about their academics. 

“Just encouraging students who at different times wanted to give up, and reminding them that they’ve come this far and that’s just not an option,” she said. “It takes teachers who are willing to get to know students and help them be resilient, and are willing to be flexible.”

Rodriguez said she resisted calls to lower graduation requirements, as was the trend in post-pandemic academia as schools nationwide were reporting high rates of learning loss.

This might have required accepting the possibility of “fifth-year seniors,” which would likely mean most would never return, Rodriguez said. 

“For me that was never an option,” she said. “We were never going to have that be our plan.

“When we raise these expectations, children rise to the expectations.”

School officials worked with every senior that was missing more than five credits, and engaged families, who signed contracts with graduation plans.

“We utilized staff from all levels, and we utilized parents, and individualized what each child needed to make the path forward,” she said. “This exemplifies what the system can do when we apply consistent pressure, have accountability, have a common vision of where we want to go and utilize our whole team.”

The district also boosted the rates of students who moved from being classified as English learner status to fluent English proficient (RFEP).

In 2021, PVUSD had a reclassification rate of 7.6%, which moved this year to 8.3%, a seemingly incremental jump that nonetheless allows the district to exceed state requirements.

“That’s something that’s real important to me because when you look at the students that aren’t graduating or are significantly underperforming, they aren’t reclassifying,” Rodriguez said.


  1. Did the supervisor share with you that students in special education were permitted to receive diplomas with only 120 high school credits rather than the required 220 credits? I am sure that boosted graduation rates quite a bit. However, it clearly did not boost the education standard of the district for a diploma. Please check this out.

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