Oregon’s graduation rate rose to 77 percent last spring, according to new numbers out Thursday.

Among the bright spots in this year’s graduation numbers are two Portland high schools with highly diverse student populations.

Roosevelt High School, in North Portland, saw its grad rate rise to 73 percent – up 20 points in four years. Principal Filip Hristic credits the bonds between teachers and students.

“Having connections and relationships with our students – making sure that they feel welcomed, that they feel supported, that they feel inspired,” Hristic said. 

Hristic points out the school’s recent improvements have occurred amid a multi-year rebuild of the campus, part of Portland Public Schools’ voter-approved construction bond. 

Roosevelt’s improvements over the last four years cross some of the school’s largest ethnic groups: white students (up 30 points), Latino students (up 24 points), and black students (up 13 points).

Statewide, improvement among Oregon’s diverse student populations has helped drive the overall rise in the graduation rate, including a three-point increase in the Latino graduation rate to nearly 73 percent.

Madison High School, on Portland’s Northeast 82nd Avenue, improved its graduation rate by seven points last year to 81 percent.

Principal Petra Callin traces Madison’s success back almost a decade, to a federal grant the school received as one of the lowest performing schools in Oregon. She said staff and administrators carefully identified what the school was doing well and where it needed to improve, and then relentlessly confronted areas that needed help.

She said with stable administration and no more re-configurations, the school was able to focus on building relationships with students, adding courses and programs that connected to kids, and finding the right supports.

But the improvements haven’t been easy as Northeast Portland’s population continues to evolve. 

“We have kids coming in and out — sometimes we can’t find kids. We go to their houses (and) they’re gone,” Callin said. “It’s definitely challenging, but we’re committed to it and just keep getting better.”

The Department of Education just started reporting the grad rate for homeless students in Oregon. It’s 51 percent.

“We have an urgent situation on our hands,” said Colt Gill, Oregon’s acting deputy superintendent.

The homeless student graduation rate is a figure that the state intends to watch closely going forward.

But Gill is generally optimistic about the gains in high schools across the state, and expects to see more of it.

“I think it is sustainable, and I think that this is the beginning of the increases,” he said. “We have some programs that are just now getting underway, that we think will improve outcomes even more.” 

Gill points to upcoming grants under Measure 98, an initiative voters approved to help high schools by investing in strategies like career-technical education.

Last year, students with at least one CTE class had an 86 percent grad rate — nine points above the state average. It was even higher for students in full-on career-technical programs.

Both Madison and Roosevelt high schools offer CTE courses. They’re also seeing high graduation rates for students who take those classes. At Roosevelt, the graduation rates for students in CTE courses is near 88 percent. Principal Hristic said students are introduced to CTE as freshmen through what he calls a “wheel” course, where students rotate through different occupation areas, from journalism to construction.

At Madison High, the graduation rate is 91 percent. Career programs there range from bioscience to digital design and sustainable agriculture.

Principals Hristic and Callin said part of CTE’s attraction is its relevance and hands-on aspects. But they said it’s also simply part of a broader strategy to convince teenagers that school is worth attending.