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Sunnyside High School close to coming off state's priority list

The Sunnyside School District may not have had a school earn one of the Washington Achievement Awards announced by the state last week, but the next few weeks should hold good news for the local high school.

That's because Sunnyside High School will be coming off a priority list that targeted the school for improvement because of low graduation rates. If the rate didn't improve, school operations could have been taken over by another government entity.

That was three years ago and, with a three-year federal grant in hand, the high school has seen graduation rates spike from one-time lows of under 50 percent to more than 80 percent this spring.

Changes during that time include raising expectations for student achievement, lengthening the school day at SHS, a closed campus, providing opportunities for at-risk students to receive more individual assistance and an ongoing partnership with Gonzaga University.

SHS had to meet a minimum requirement of reaching a 60 percent graduation rate, which it has far exceeded.

Once the three-year federal grant expires at the end of this school year, the high school will no longer be on the priority list.

SHS is the only Sunnyside school on the list.

"The high school has done what it was supposed to do," says Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole.

Noting he was surprised none of Sunnyside's schools were on last week's list of achievement awards, Cole pointed out that just two years ago Pioneer, Outlook and Chief Kamiakin elementary schools all garnered the honor.

Cole also points out that SHS is in a different position than some school districts.

Unlike Grandview High School, for example, which last week earned an achievement award, Sunnyside does not have an alternate high school for at-risk or struggling students.

"When we closed the alternative school all high school students in the district were in one school," Cole said.

As a result, SHS is evaluated based on all high school students in the school district, rather than divided between a high school and alternative school.

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