While Central Virginia graduation rates remain stagnate, these two school districts buck the trend

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School buses parked in Helena, Mont., ahead of the beginning of the school year, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. School districts across the country are coping with a shortage of bus drivers, a dilemma that comes even as they struggle to start a new school year during a new surge of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Iris Samuels)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — New data from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) is giving new insight into the effects of pandemic disruptions on schools in the Central Virginia region.

The VDOE reported on Sep. 30 that graduation rates across the state have been on an upward trend for years – and that growth was only slowed slightly by the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, graduation rates increased by 0.8 percent and from 2020 to 2021, as the pandemic drove schools to implement remote learning and limit in-person instruction, graduation rates still grew by 0.7 percent.

But that statewide trend wasn’t reflected in Central Virginia schools. Growth in graduation rates stagnated in the region at just 0.09 percent, well below the state average.

The map below shows the change in graduation rates for area school divisions:

Charles City County experienced the largest drop, with four percent fewer students graduating in the 2020-2021 school year.

Many divisions that saw stagnation already had high graduation rates. In Hanover County, where graduation rates have been above 95 percent for 9 years, rates fell around 0.4 percent during the pandemic.

Hanover Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Gill said he was proud of the school’s handling of COVID-19, “Our students, faculty, and staff continue to demonstrate their resilience in the most challenging circumstances we have ever encountered.”

Two school divisions – Richmond and Colonial Heights – stood out of the pack, posting significant growth in their graduation rates.

Colonial Heights saw a 5.5 percent gain, recovering from a dip in the 2019-2020 school year and nearly recovering to prior graduation rates.

And in the embattled Richmond City school system, graduation rates skyrocketed by 7.3 percent. The city’s graduation rate had previously been the worst in the state, surpassing Hopewell, which saw a 2.7 percent decline last year.

In an Oct 1 newsletter, Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras said improvement was especially strong among Hispanic students, whose graduation rates increased by 24.8 percent.

Even as RPS celebrates the new results, Kamras said the school system is looking towards the future, “Of course, we’re aiming MUCH higher and have a tremendous amount of work to do, but it’s clear we’re on the right path.”

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