McNary grad numbers leap

Eloisa Moreno shows off her diploma in the much-delayed 2020 McNary High School commencement ceremony. Latino students led all of McNary’s subgroups with a 91.48% graduation rate (File).

After recording their best graduation numbers in more than a decade in 2019, the McNary High School class of 2020 again posted some of the best numbers in the Salem-Keizer School District.

McNary’s four-year senior cohort graduated 91.21% of students in 2020, just over 10% higher than the district average. It was the second year in a row that McNary graduated more than 90% of their senior class.

“This isn’t a blip. We have been tracking these numbers for the last six years and we have seen consistent growth year in and year out,” McNary principal Erik Jespersen said. “It’s validating to know that we are going in the right direction as a collective school.”

One of the biggest sources of pride for Jespersen was seeing the four-year graduation rate for Latino students.

When Jespersen took over as the McNary principal during the 2014-15 school year, Latino students, which represent approximately one-third of the McNary student body, had a 73% graduation rate. During that same year, white students posted an 86% graduation rate.

Over the last six years, the gap has completely closed. According to Jespersen, 2020 was the first year in school history that Latino students had a higher graduation rate (91.48%) than white students (91.25%) — the Latino graduation rate numbers improved nearly 7% from last year.

The 91.25% Latino graduation at McNary is 12% higher than the state average.

“It’s so incredibly gratifying to know that if you are walking in our hallways, the chance you are going to have success is extremely high and it propels you to be a successful citizen for the rest of your life. It just matters. We don’t have gaps at our school. We serve all of our kids. It’s a really great feeling,” Jespersen said.

For the second straight year, McNary also experienced a boost in special education graduation numbers. In 2014-15, special education students, or students on an individualized learning plan (IEP), graduated 52.2% of their students. But over a six-year period, the rate has improved by more than 30% as McNary special education students graduated in 2020 at an 82.5% clip — more than 14% higher than the state average.

Jespersen credits the culture that has been created at McNary as one of the main reasons for the improvement.

“I give tremendous credit to our special education team, both teachers and instructional assistants. They are superstars. But in addition to that, I give tremendous credit to the rest of our staff. Our general education staff are constantly present at IEP meetings, both physically and mentally,” Jespersen said. “When you have a case manager and special education teachers working with a general (education) teacher, there is great collaboration there that didn’t necessarily exist seven or eight years ago. We have done a really good job providing services for kids within the context of their regular education.”

Additionally, 91.21% of students in the 2020 senior class that are considered economically disadvantaged were able to receive their diplomas — more than 12% above the state average.

According to Jespersen, one of McNary’s strengths as a school is being able to track student data and using that data for rapid interventions when needed.

“At any point, we know how any of the kids in our subgroups are doing with their grades in real time and what their attendance is in real time,” Jespersen said. “We have also hired people that have a heart for kids and an innovative spirit.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic ended in-person classes in March of 2020, Jespersen felt that the relationships that educators had developed with their students helped them cross the finish line successfully.

“I think our kids come to McNary and feel like we love them and we care for them and we are going to do whatever we can, and quite honestly, I believe that matters more than anything else,” Jespersen said.

After receiving the graduation results, Jespersen emailed the principal at each elementary and middle school in Keizer, thanking them for the role each school has played for McNary’s class of 2020’s success. 

“I thanked them for all the work that they have done to help prepare our kids at McNary. “Two-thirds of a kid’s public school experience is before high school. Our success is because of their success. It’s a team effort. And I think that’s a unique thing that we have in Keizer. It’s a collective effort for all of our kids. This isn’t just a win for McNary, it’s a win for Keizer,” Jespersen said.