Summit School District graduation rate drops by 5% after pandemic closes schools in spring 2020 |

Summit School District graduation rate drops by 5% after pandemic closes schools in spring 2020

Graduate Josselin Leiba wears a cap that reads "Always stay humble and kind" during the Summit High School graduation ceremony Aug. 1.
Photo by Libby Stanford /

Approaching one year since schools shut down due to the pandemic, Summit School District officials are starting to see how remote learning impacted education.

Last week, the Colorado Department of Education released graduation, completion and dropout statistics for all public schools across Colorado. According to the data, the four-year graduation rate for the district after the 2019-20 school year was at 90.4%, a drop of 4.7% from the 2018-19 school year.

Educators are attributing the drop in the graduation rate to the pandemic. Summit High School Principal Tim Ridder said the inability to do typical intervention meetings in the second semester of school made it difficult for some students to graduate on time.

“Near the end of the year, we really provide a focused effort as far as interventions for our kids,” he said. “A lot of the success in that normally has to do with being in person.”

The drop in the graduation rate is attributed to students at Summit High School. Snowy Peaks, the only other public high school in Summit County, has a 100% graduation rate over the past five years, Principal Jim Smith said. However, Snowy Peaks has a much lower student population and teachers are better able to connect with students one-on-one.

“It has been incredibly beneficial for Snowy Peaks to have a smaller school environment to … really be able to create strong connections with our students,” Smith said.

Both Ridder and Smith said personal connections are key in education. When the pandemic stripped that away, it was more difficult for school officials to check in on struggling students.

“Not being here in any capacity and having to depend on a lot of outside factors in trying to get them through to graduation, that provided a challenge for us,” Ridder said.

However, the data did show some positives for the district. The district’s graduation rate remains above average for Colorado, which was 81.9% for the class of 2020, according to the Colorado Department of Education. The dropout rate for Summit’s class of 2020 remained at 0.5%.

“My gosh, whenever you have below a 1% dropout rate, you’re doing something right,” Smith said.

The low dropout rate underscores how crucial the school’s intervention efforts are, Ridder said. Often times, these intervention meetings involve one-on-one counseling, where a student develops a plan to complete the courses that are needed for graduation.

Ridder said the school uses this approach to help students of all backgrounds. According to race and ethnicity data, Hispanic, Black and multiracial students have lower graduation rates than white students.

While the four-year graduation rate for white students was at 94.9%, the rate for Hispanic students was 82.7%. It was 87.5% for Black students, and multiracial students had a rate of 66.7%.

“We want to do what’s best for each of our kids,” Ridder said. “The relationships that are being developed through our intervention groups — and most specifically through our attendance office — are really working to make sure that we keep the school as a priority for those kids that might be falling off.”

Smith said students who aren’t able to thrive in a typical school environment often find help at Snowy Peaks.

“Every student comes to Snowy Peaks with a story,” he said. “… Something, somewhere along the lines has said they need something different. It’s our job that we identify what that need is and fill it to the best of our ability. That’s how we’re addressing equity at Snowy Peaks.”

Ridder said he hopes the hybrid model of remote and in-person learning that students have been in this school year will help improve the graduation rate.

“This whole thing has been a challenge, but I feel like being able to see and work with kids is, I believe, going to make last year a blip on the radar as opposed to a trend,” he said.

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