BURLINGTON, Iowa — Burlington High School celebrated the graduation of the class of 2016 on Sunday at Bracewell Stadium.
Kayla Elmore is heading to Iowa State next year. She wants to be a veterinarian someday and her high school graduation is one step towards that objective.
"It's a day that we all get together and celebrate everything that we've accomplished," said Elmore.
Though spirits are high, graduates also know one in four students didn't make it to this day. In 2015 Burlington High School had the lowest graduation in the state, and they remain at the bottom with a 73 percent graduation rate for the class of 2016.
"I feel bad, I feel like everybody deserves to experience this moment," said Elmore.
Superintendent Pat Cohen is in his second year with the district. He was born in Burlington. The river town is his community. To him, the graduation rate is unacceptable, and he isn't throwing out any excuses.
"We just can't go to blaming the kid, we just can't go to blaming the parents we have to own the fact that this is what we have right now."
The high school needs to be restructured from a 7-period day into a trimester schedule. A move that will happen starting with the 2017-2018 school year. Cohen wants the school to put all students in a situation set-up for success.
"Our school is very much fashioned for the child who is going to go and receive a 4-year degree at a university and Burlington students that go to a 4-year university we're one of the highest in the state for success but that's only 20% of our kids."
Cohen says the high school trades program was killed, bad news for students who struggle to sit in a classroom.
"Now a child who maybe wants to swing a hammer wants to be more of a skilled trades person, we no longer have that opportunity at our school," said Cohen.
Minority students, including African Americans, Hispanics, and IEP (Individualized Education Program) students have a disproportionately worse graduation rate than the 73 percent average, according to the Iowa Department of Education graduation rates by district.
"A fundamental belief is that education will change your life, and it will give you opportunity. To have children to not be hungry for that, that innate to better themselves, challenge themselves that type of thing is mind boggling," said Cohen.
Building vision within students through mentoring programs and personal teacher interaction is key.
"Once a child has something they want to work toward, then, now, I have a reason to be on time I have a reason to put forth effort, I know what I want to obtain," said Cohen.