Last August, the senior class at Sunnyside High School faced tremendous changes at their school, had lofty expectations placed upon them and began a senior year punctuated with the inspiring mantra "Together we will."
Most of those students, who began their journey toward graduation together, reached their goal last Friday night, when 326 students received their high school diploma.
The staff and students at Sunnyside High School endeavored to boost academics throughout the year, but the district had two main goals with this year's senior class.
The first goal was to graduate 65 percent of its seniors. Last fall, the high school started with 401 seniors, but the actual graduate percentage cannot be calculated until the district can follow up with students who transferred out of the district. This number, referred to as the cohort number, is used to accurately tally the graduate percentage.
Sunnyside High School Principal Chuck Salina says that he is confident once that cohort number is tallied, the school will have reached, and possibly exceeded, its goal of graduating 65 percent of its seniors.
Last year, Sunnyside High School started with 394 students and saw 283 graduate in the spring.
Forty more students graduated this year, Salina said, and that number could go higher.
Thirteen of this year's Sunnyside High School seniors completed the school's academic requirements, but not the state standardized testing. These students have resubmitted their work and are awaiting the result.
Salina also reports success with the high school's second main goal - to increase daily attendance to 93 percent from last year's 92 percent. With one week still left in the school year, Salina says that if the students stay on track they'll reach that goal.
"I am very pleased and proud of the hard work our students and teachers have done," Salina said.
Evidence of their hard work is found in the number of students who are passing all their classes. Salina said that number has increased approximately 25 percent from last year, leaving the number around 75 percent.
This will have a long term effect on student graduation rates, he said.
But efforts to improve achievement at Sunnyside High School will continue into next year. Salina will return as principal and the school will continue to set high goals for their students and staff.
The Merit grant that has initiated so many crucial changes at Sunnyside High School will be reduced by $200,000 this next year. This reduction will facilitate a reduction in Merit related staff, but not school staff, Salina assures. With a whopping 500 freshmen entering high school this fall, the school will need its staff.
Among the goals for 2011-12 is to ensure that students who fail a class can make up the credits immediately. Some seniors this year worked extra hard to make up credits they missed during their freshman or sophomore years.
Salina also said that next year the school will work to have an individual program for every student to ensure they get on and stay on the graduation track.
Among those students will be the English Language Learners (ELL). Salina said to really assist these students he wants to provide teachers with extra support and resources to aid the ELL students in their general education classes.
Slowly, the culture at Sunnyside High School is beginning to turn around. Salina says that more students are willing to help other students and graduation is increasingly becoming important to them.
In fact, the students at Sunnyside High School have slowly begun to say, "Together we did."
Next school year's unofficial motto of Sunnyside High School will grow on this year's success - "Together we will believe and achieve."