If student success rates were grades, the Chilliwack School District (SD 33) would be on the honour roll.
Graduation rates in the District are on their way up, with the previous school year seeing a four per cent increase over the last six years, from 78 to 82 per cent, and 13 per cent—from 69 to 82 per cent—over the last 21 years.
The rise in graduation rates was even more substantial for Aboriginal students in the district, a 22 per cent increase in the past six years—24 per cent in the last 21 years—surpasses the province-wide average by 10 per cent.
“The good news story here is that our completion rates for all students and for Aboriginal students is pretty much at the same rate,” explained Rohan Arul-pragasam, acting superintendent of school for SD 33.
“And no one strategy (that’s facilitated this), but our Strategic Plan lays out the plan for the whole District, and (it) has been the driver … (but) our district is full of unsung heroes who do the work day in and day out (to help these kids).”
Located within S’olh Temexw, the traditional territory of the Stó:lō people, SD 33 comprises about 14,000 students, 2,144 who identify as Aboriginal.
“There’s no question about it, we have a larger Aboriginal population because our population is growing,” said Arul-pragasam. “The District is growing at approximately 2.5 per cent each year, but as much as our population is increasing, there are communities where the same is happening but their graduation rates aren’t (improving).”
For more than two decades now, the Chilliwack School Board has been working with the community to improve the education opportunities for all local children from kindergarten to grade 12.
With a culture of collaboration and a focus on creating results for all students, Arul-pragasam says there are multiple areas in which the District has been able to improve education for its students, thus enhancing their chance for success.
“We track students more closely, we have program options for students to be successful,” said the acting superintendent during a telephone interview. We’ve created a “connection between school and community and focus on strong relationships. All those pieces add to kids being successful in our schools.
“We also believe our Aboriginal Education Enhancement Agreement and the Local Education Agreements with local First Nations and the Aboriginal community have helped pave the way for the success of our Aboriginal students,” added Arul-pragasam.
The results, which were released in a report issued by the Ministry of Education, include students receiving the provincial standard Dogwood Diploma (the B.C. Certificate of Graduation), which requires 80 credits in specific subject areas, and the Adult Dogwood Diploma granted to mature students in the Chilliwack School District.
Student graduation rates are one of the Ministry of Education’s key measures of educational success, and the District is extremely proud of this significant accomplishment, particularly the improvement for Aboriginal students whose results are now within 3% of all students after lagging by 21% only six years ago in 2012/2013.
The District aims to close this gap in coming years.
“This has been a work in progress for many years,” said Arul-pragasam, “and the work is still ongoing. We’ve still got a ways to go (because) at the end of the day, we want to make sure every single kid can graduate.”