BY CHRIS AADLAND
MISSION – Local Indigenous students continue to graduate high school at rates higher than all other Native American students in Oregon, according to statewide graduation numbers released on Thursday.
At Pendleton High School, 82.4% of the Native students in the class of 2023 graduated, matching the rate for the rest of the school’s seniors. That was a jump of more than 10% from the previous year, and about 13% higher than the statewide graduation rate of 68% for tribal students, according to the Pendleton School District, which released its numbers on Thursday to coincide with the release of the statewide data.
Overall, 80% of Indigenous seniors in the Pendleton School District earned their diploma, which was an increase of 10% percent compared to 2022 – and higher than district’s overall graduation rate of 76.7%, a decrease of about 5% compared to the previous graduating class. The rate includes students from Nixyáawii Community School, Hawthorne Alternative High Schooland Pendleton High School (PHS).
It was only the second time there hasn’t been a graduation gap for Native American students in the district, said Matt Yoshioka, the district’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment. That graduation rate has also been trending upwards over the last several years.
At Nixyáawii, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s public charter school, the rate increased slightly to 78.3% of Native students compared to the previous year and was the second highest rate in the school’s history.
While the Pendleton School District and PHS overall saw declines, Superintendent Kevin Headings said the improvements among its Indigenous students was encouraging.
“Although the district would like to see more students graduate, the results across the board are positive, especially with our Native American students,” Headings said in a Thursday press release. “These increases reflect the many hundreds of hours PSD staff, students, and families pour into their efforts to find success. We are working to improve and grow at all levels in our schools and remain committed to every student, every day.”
Graduation rates for Indigenous students at NCS and in PSD schools have historically been higher than the state average – which has been between 67% and 69% – for the last several years, according to the data.
Nixyáawii and PSD officials attributed the high rates to programming, like Native language classes, partnerships with the tribe and other support services targeted towards Indigenous students, among other factors.
NCS Principal Ryan Heinrich credited much of the school’s success to a dedicated staff that experiences little turnover. For example, he said staff work with students to keep them on track or help them catch up on some Fridays (the school only holds official classes four days a week) when the school is open for students to come get extra help.
In addition, Heinrich said being fully funded, with financial support from the CTUIR, and having an additional behavioral support staff member available to students, contributes to its graduation rates. A relatively new building, along with cultural programming, like Umatilla language classes, make the school a place young tribal members want to attend, he added.
“The kids have a place to call home,” Heinrich said, adding that his and NCS staff’s goal is not to just surpass the state’s Native American graduation rate, but to also at least match the overall state graduation rate considering not all NCS students are Indigenous. “We’re using all the resources the tribe provides … for the Native American kids and community.”
Although the high Native American graduation rates should be celebrated, Yoshioka, the Pendleton district administrator, said the students who didn’t earn a diploma shouldn’t be disregarded.
“We hope we can get them to the finish line still,” he said.
Although the rate for Native Americans decreased slightly, the overall graduation rate for all Oregon students in the class of 2023 was 81.3%, which was the second highest rate in the state’s history, according to the Oregon Department of Education.
“I am never satisfied when it comes to our kids. We will continue working hard to improve results in the coming school years,” Gov. Tina Kotek said. “Still, it’s important that we are seeing some positive results in key areas where the state has been targeting resources.”