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(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Highland High School soccer team players Mikey Morales, 17, and team captain Luis Orozco, 18, credit the teachers, coaches and staff for their attention and guidance in allowing the two to excel in school through good grades and personal achievement, Wednesday, May 28, 2014.
Editorial: High five, Highland High, for high Latino grad rate

Individual focus brings rare results.

First Published Jun 03 2014 04:40 pm • Last Updated Jun 04 2014 01:26 pm

A big graduation cheer is in order for Latino seniors at Highland High School and the educators who helped them.

The Salt Lake City school reports that 84 percent of Latino seniors will graduate this week. (Latinos are roughly a quarter of the whole class.) Not only is that well above the statewide average of 68 percent for Latino students, but it’s also above the 82 percent rate for white students at Highland. That just doesn’t happen very often in this state or in the nation.

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Principal Paul Schulte has invested in a targeted approach that finds and helps drifting students. "I don’t necessarily always buy into that I have to have a special focus on the Latino kids or the Polynesian kids," Schulte said. "I’ve always kind of run the school [thinking] if you just do the right thing for kids, for the school, it takes care of everybody."

And taking care of everybody means riding their butts, especially in the early high school years. When Schulte first arrived a decade ago, he checked the first-semester grades for his freshmen and found 800 F’s. So he invested staff in a "Freshman Success" program to focus on the newcomers, and that is still paying dividends. The school also has seen its absenteeism rate drop by more than half by offering incentives instead of straight makeup work. If a student is willing to spend an hour with a tutor, it will make up for two hours of missed instruction time.

And how’s this for parent outreach: Every Thursday, all day, a group of counselors and administrators throw open the doors for any parents and/or students to come in and discuss their individual issues and come up with a plan.

No doubt Highland has much to improve upon. The state school grading system gave the school a "D." Still, there’s a hopefulness in student Alexis Flores’ view of his school: "Everybody talks to everybody," he said. "Everybody’s cool with everybody."

Honestly, if it’s like every high school on Earth, everybody is not quite cool with everybody, but the mere fact that Flores thinks that ­— as a minority student in a predominantly white school — is evidence that Schulte and his crew are doing something right, and they have the graduation numbers to back that up.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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