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Valparaiso Community Schools' enrollment up, graduation rate remains strong

Valparaiso Community Schools

Valparaiso continues to attract young families, judging by the latest school enrollment data. The September count showed that Valparaiso Community Schools had about 6,471 students, 64 more than last September.

Superintendent Dr. Jim McCall says Valpo is one of the few local school districts to see its enrollment increase. "Which, of course, I think is the attraction of not only strong programming, excellent teachers, extreme success within the schools, but also, all the amenities that a city like Valparaiso has to offer," McCall recently told the school board.

More students entered kindergarten this year than graduated from high school, and many of the lower grades have more students now than eight years ago. McCall said that growth is likely not a reflection of the area's birth rate, but of families moving from places like Lake and Cook counties. Growth is expected specifically on the west side of the city, where some classrooms are already approaching capacity.

Board member Jon Costas noted Valparaiso's affordability for people looking to start a family, something he's also pointed out during his mayoral campaign. "Also, it's a quality of life thing, issues like just safety, shopping and all the things that, once they get past the analysis of the school system, they're saying, 'O.K., is this a livable community? Is it walkable?'" Costas added.

Meanwhile, the district continues to have a strong graduation rate. The graduation rate for last school year was 99.56 percent, according to state standards, meaning all but two students.

Nine students graduated with the new alternate diploma, putting a diploma within reach of students with significant cognitive disabilities for the first time.

But graduation requirements are increasing for other students. The state had been letting students take the ASVAB as one of the Graduation Pathways, but relatively few actually ended up joining the armed forces. Now, in order for that test to count toward graduation, students have to sign a document saying they plan to enlist.

Dr. Nick Allison, the assistant superintendent for secondary education, said that's resulted in many students being shifted to a career and technical education track. "While I would say we were doing things the right way with the ASVAB exam — it was intended to be a career-readiness aptitude test for students — some schools were using it more in a manner of, 'Every freshman takes it, every sophomore takes it, every junior takes it, to make sure that we've checked the boxes,'" Allison told board members.

Now, he said the state will work on a new set of graduation requirements over the next year, with the goal of freeing up more of students' time for workplace experience.