Public schools graduation rate up; lead in water update

Published on: January 2, 2019

Public schools reopen Jan. 8

County schools set graduation rate record

as Spoto makes biggest jump

By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON

The Christmas and New Year holiday break is over for students and staff of all Hillsborough County public schools on Tuesday, Jan 8.

That’s when the schoolhouse doors open again after being closed since Friday afternoon, Dec. 21. All school district offices reopen on Monday, Jan. 7.

Students and faculty now prepare to begin the last half of the 2018-19 academic school year, aiming for even higher graduation rates than previously attained.

“We Climb Together” is the Hillsborough County School District (HCSD) theme for 2018-19 in an effort to create a culture where everyone becomes a “graduation champion” for the students. According to a spokesperson for the HCSD, “It’s all about the climb to the goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. The district has more than 24,000 employees working together to support and guide students toward graduation.”

Hillsborough County Public Schools graduation rates

Those efforts have paid off, with the recent announcement that the HCSD set an all-time record high for the district. The 85.8 percent graduation rate for 2017-18 is a boost of 2.9  percent higher than the previous year and a jump of 12.3 percentage points since 2014.

Superintendent Jeff Eakins, since he took over the top spot has made graduation rates a top priority along with the School Board. The graduation rate has moved up steadily from 76 percent in 2014-15, to 79.1 percent in 2015-2016, to 82.9 percent in 2017-17, to the 85.5 percent mark for 2017-18. This percentage increase translates to 1,055 more students earning a high school diploma.

Spoto High School in Riverview had the highest graduation rate increase, climbing from 80.4 percent in 2016-17 to 88.3 percent last year. The highest graduation rate in the district, for the second year in a row belongs to Tampa Bay Technical a magnet high school near Temple Terrace which registered a 99.1 percent graduation rate, only four students shy of a perfect graduation mark.

Hillsborough County Public Schools continues to close the achievement gap — the difference in academic performance between groups of students. African American students went up 5 percentage points in one year to 79.4 percent. Hispanic graduates jumped 3.5 percentage points higher than last year to 83.4 percent. English Language Learners are up 6.8 points to 75.1 percent.

The HCSD saw some of the biggest improvements among students with disabilities. A change in state law a few years ago now makes it possible for students with disabilities to earn a standard diploma instead of a special diploma, if they meet all graduation requirements. A high school diploma means that they can access many post-secondary opportunities, such as universities, technical colleges, and they can join the armed forces, in addition to being more competitive in the workforce. The graduation rate for students with disabilities increased from 64.5 percent to 76.3 percent, an 11.8 percentage point jump.

 Florida education officials also released in December a new record for Florida’s public high school graduation rate, which set a new mark. Almost nine of 10 public high school seniors received a diploma following the 2017-18 school year. Florida’s official graduation rate was an all-time high at 86.1 percent. Forty-nine of the 61 public high schools in the four-county Tampa Bay area showed increases in their graduation rates.

School district tests and corrects all problems with lead in water

By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON

Hillsborough County Public Schools recently announced the completion of the first year of districtwide water testing. The school district, which includes public schools in the South Shore, decided to take the proactive step of testing to ensure the water that students and staff drink is safe for consumption.

According to a school district spokesperson, fixtures at every school and district office, 251 facilities in all, have now been tested and any issues that were found have been corrected. Hillsborough School District maintenance crews collected water samples from every drinking fountain, kitchen food prep sink, or other fixture used for drinking water, in addition to other samples throughout the schools.

Hillsborough County School District pie graph showing recent water testing results at public schools throughout the county.

School district maintenance teams took samples from 11,595 fixtures. Fewer than 2 percent of those, a total of 207 fixtures, came back with lead levels above the district’s strict standard of 15 parts per billion. The Hillsborough School District is using a stricter standard than what the Environmental Protection Agency recommends. Forty of the fixtures that showed elevated levels were drinking fountains. All of the fixtures that showed elevated levels were immediately taken out of operation and not used again until the problem was fixed, and the water passed a new test.

There were no school-wide issues. The majority of the issues were found in fixtures like hand-washing sinks or backflow prevention devices. Parents have all been sent notification that includes the results of their child’s school testing. All detailed results can be seen on the website at hillsboroughschools.org

This testing is not required by any law. It is an additional step the district is taking to improve safety for its students and staff. Charter and private schools are independently managed; therefore, are not part of this testing program.

Hillsborough Schools has hundreds of dedicated employees who work hard to maintain the public schools, but the average campus age is 50 years old, and older pipes and fixtures do have a higher likelihood of adding lead to water.

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