‘Finish Strong' Initiative Helps Dallas ISD Boost Class of 2021 Graduation Rate

What was a 66% graduation rate in April now sits at 87%

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The outlook for Dallas ISD seniors in April wasn't good, according to district administrators -- just 66% were on track to graduate.

But with those troubling numbers, the district acted, determined to reach students who'd fallen through the cracks.

Friends Erika Morales and Natalie Flores will graduate high school on Sunday and navigating a global pandemic during their senior year of high school was far from ideal.

“Mentally it was a disaster,” Flores said. “You lost connection with everyone, you were isolated most of the time. It was pretty stressful.”

At one point, Flores said she hit a rough patch in a particular class.

“I was overwhelmed, and I knew that I had to get my things together and get my act together,” she said.

Dallas ISD leaders knew there were many more students out there like Flores -- each student with a unique story touched by the unforeseen struggles of 2020.

So, it became all hands on deck for educators.

They launched the initiative "Finish Strong" to get seniors back into the classroom and across the stage. Through the campaign, Dallas ISD worked to make the Class of 2021's closing weeks as memorable as possible by urging seniors to return to on-campus learning full-time.

“A lot of what we had we had to do was individual problem solving almost like case management, because for as many kids as were off track, there were probably that many different reasons,” said Dallas ISD Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova. “It started off with postcards and telephone calls. We had central office support our schools with making daily telephone calls, we hit the streets."

The campaign also included Saturday school, which offered students some flexibility for completing their work and getting additional help. Within a matter of two months, the district made a difference.

What was a 66% graduation rate in April now sits at 87%.

Had those numbers not improved, the concern wasn’t overcrowding in next year’s class, but perhaps that the opportunity would be missed altogether.

“We were really concerned that if kids did not complete their work this year, that they might not come back,” Cordova said.

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