Willmar's graduation rates show how students benefit from extra time

Minnesota students are allowed to study in public schools until they turn 21. The state tracks students for seven years after they enter ninth grade, and the latest report shows how Willmar's students kept earning diplomas through the seventh year.

Willmar graduation 2021
Graduates prepare for the Willmar Senior High School commencement to begin at the Willmar Civic Center in this file photo from Sunday, June 6, 2021. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — State graduation rate reports for Willmar Public Schools show how some extra time can benefit students.

The 2020 graduation report was released in June, and the Willmar School Board heard a report on it at their meeting this week.

The graduation rates and other information about the state’s schools are listed on the Minnesota Department of Education’ s Minnesota Report Card .

The state tracks students seven years after they enter ninth grade, because students can continue studying in public schools until they turn 21.

“In our district, we have a certain number of students who need more time,” Director of Teaching and Learning Carrie Thomas told the board.


The additional time allows students whose education has been disrupted for some reason to keep working toward their diplomas.

Some students arrive from other countries speaking little or no English, she said, and some of them have had little formal education.

A look at the Minnesota Report Card indicates that Willmar’s students have benefited from extra time.

The school does not change its graduation requirements for those students, Thomas said.

“We want that diploma to mean something,” she said, “so when people see that a student has graduated from Willmar Public Schools, they have met certain requirements.”

The state reported 83.8% of the state’s students graduated in 2020, a total of 56,684 students. In Willmar, the overall percentage was 70.3%.

Willmar Senior High had 230 students graduate, 78.6% of the class. At the Area Learning Center , 10 students, 21.3%, graduated in the class of 2020. Also, 12.5% of Senior High students and 38.3% of ALC students are continuing in school.

The state report includes Prairie Lakes Education Center, which serves Prairie Lakes Youth Programs . The operation includes a juvenile detention center and two group homes. In recent years the number of graduates has ranged from 1 to 4.


In the last year the state tracked the class of 2017, the percentage of Willmar Senior High graduates grew from 78.5% in 2017 to 86.1% in 2020, a final total of 210 students over seven years.

At the ALC, the percentage increased from 24.1% in 2017 to 62.9% in 2020, for a final total of 39 students.

Unfortunately, 24% of the ALC class of 2017, 15 students, also dropped out over those four years. At the senior high, 10.2% had dropped out, a total of 25 students.

Thomas said the district will continue implementing a plan to increase graduation rates by building connections with students.

The Minnesota Early Indicator Response System uses a team of teachers, counselors and administrators to review students’ attendance, behavior and course completion.

For at-risk students, the group discusses ways to intervene and tries to make sure each student has a connection with at least one adult in the school.

The ALC has used the AVID system of academic support that promotes college and career readiness.

A new focus on standards-based learning will begin with a workshop in early August, Thomas said. The plan would be to develop a consistent system of goals across the district, “so we’re all talking the same language,” she said.


To find the Minnesota Report Card, go to The Minnesota Report Card is listed under the Data Center heading.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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