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New Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Working to Improve High School Graduation Rates

SACRAMENTO -- It's the first day of school at Hiram Johnson High, but Thursday's lesson was about the path to get to the last day of high school.

Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar has been on the job for a little over a month.  From day one, he's said he's not impressed with the district's 80.5 percent graduation rate. That's below the Sacramento County average of 81 percent, and the state's 83 percent.

"I believe that every student should be given an equal opportunity to graduate. That's not happening. So we're going to strive toward that," Aguilar said.

He announced he's put together a special, 21-person graduation task force made up of religious, ethnic, community and business leaders -- all eager for a change.

"When we talk about equity, what does that mean for many of our students who are actually in this district, who are low income, who are English language learners, and foster youth? How are we going to be able to change those numbers around?" said Mai Vang, a member of the graduation task force.

"No one in my family had ever gone to college, and I didn't have anyone showing me the way," said student Rakeem Murdock.

A few years ago, Murdock was a struggling student at McClatchy High with no direction and no goals.

"So many kids. I was like an outcast. I was a ghost. I wasn't really there," Murdock said.

Graduation seemed impossible until he transferred to a smaller school and got guidance from a mentoring program. Earlier this year, he got his diploma and is now a marketing student at Sac City College.

It's success stories like Murdock's that this task force hopes to see more of, once they turn in their recommendations in December.

The recommendation will be for a set of innovative programs and lessons to not only keep students in school, but to have them leave, as proud graduates of the Sacramento City Unified School District.

"I think we owe it to every student and to every member of this community to at least give them the opportunity to finish a 12 year career in the public school system, ready for the challenges of the world, and make sure they have the greatest number of post secondary choices from the widest array of options," Aguilar said.

According to Sacramento City Unified School District, the overall high school graduation rate for the district from 2015-2016 was 80.5 percent.

California state average is 83 percent.

Graduation rates of nearby districts: 

Sacramento countywide 81 percent
Stockton Unified 82 percent
San Juan 84 percent
Twin Rivers 84 percent
Elk Grove 91 percent
Natomas 95 percent

Graduation rates within the Sac City Unified School District:

West Campus 99.5 percent
Arthur Benjamin Health Professionals High 93.5 percent
The MET 90.7 percent
Kennedy 90.7 percent
New Tech 89.5 percent
McClatchy 87.8 percent
Rosemont 86.1 percent
School of Engineering and Science 85.1 percent
George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science 84.3 percent
Burbank 82.3 percent
Hiram Johnson 75.5 percent

Source: Sacramento City Unified School District