"It's a challenge because we really have to work with a diverse population of students with different needs," Salem, principal of North High School, said.
Thursday, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg held a news conference at North to go over the district's numbers on graduation rate and the number of students enrolling in college.
Between 2008 and 2009, the graduation rate increased by 3.2 percent to a total of 52.7 percent district wide. The college enrollment numbers jumped 7 percent to a total of 49 percent across Denver.
Boasberg says he is pleased, but not happy.
"I don't believe that modest changes are what we need if we're going to have dramatically different and dramatically better results," Boasberg said.
He picked North because its graduation rate increased by more than 12 percent.
"We're encouraged by the data, our graduation rate, but we still know we have a lot more to do," Salem said.
At North, Salem has tried to change the culture to make college an expectation not a dream. Students get help on college applications in the school's "Future Center" run by the Denver Scholarship Foundation.
North has a credit recovery program where students can earn back credits after failing a class. And, Salem is developing a "5th year" curriculum where students can earn an Associate's Degree along with their high school diploma.
"In education, in any school, culture shift takes time," Salem said. "It takes the buying of the whole community, the consistent practices of the behaviors you want to instill in the culture."
Boasberg wants DPS to have a graduation rate above 80 percent. He wants to see improvement every year by at least 5 percent.
"It needs to be faster. It needs to be higher," Boasberg said.
He does see hope. The number of students enrolled in "5th year" programs has increased by 56 percent. Students taking Advanced Placement classes have jumped 32 percent. The number of juniors scoring a 20 or better on the ACT college-entrance exam has increased slightly to 28.2 percent.
"We know we can do it," Salem said. "We continue to move in that direction.
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