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    How Bangor High achieved its highest graduation rate ever

    By Kathleen O'Brien,


    The Bangor High School Class of 2024, which received its diplomas on Sunday, boasts a 92 percent graduation rate — the highest in the school’s history.

    James Tager, Bangor school superintendent, credited the achievement to a team of school administrators, including graduation coaches, mentors and guidance counselors, that track each student’s progress and do everything possible to help students succeed. They connect with students on a personal level, remove barriers and find what interests them.

    “These kids aren’t low achievers, some just had life get in the way,” Tager said. “Some of them had to watch younger siblings during the pandemic or work to help their families. Some are in houses with addiction. You name it, we’ve seen it.”

    Together, the team has helped the school’s graduation rate climb from 82 percent to 92 percent in the three years since Tager took over as superintendent.

    The dramatic improvement is proof the department’s recent focus on improving overall student well-being is working, and ultimately getting diplomas in the hands of students. Students who achieve that milestone have more job and career options that allow them to serve their community.

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    This year’s 92 percent graduation rate exceeds Maine’s average four-year high school graduation rate of 87 percent. It also surpasses the school department’s own 90 percent graduation rate goal, which it set in its 10-year strategic plan published in 2020.

    The Bangor High School Class of 2022 was the first to reach the 90 percent graduation rate benchmark , and the Bangor High School Class of 2023 repeated the feat.

    Tager credited much of the achievement to the high school’s two graduation coaches that were hired a few years ago. The positions were initially funded using one-time COVID-19 dollars, but the department later added the jobs to the regular budget after witnessing the graduation rate improve.
    A Bangor High School senior looks at his diploma during the 2024 graduation ceremony in the Cross Insurance Center on Sunday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

    Additionally, the school department launched a program during the 2021-22 school year that links students in all 11 Bangor schools with community mentors. Those mentors, whether they’re school staff, older students or even just people from the community, work to guide, encourage, teach, motivate and listen to students.

    “You have to see value in everybody and find the interest in every student,” Tager said. “Why do they come there? It’s usually for a person, not a program.”

    The high school also has the goal of having 95 percent of students involved in two or more extracurricular activities, whether it’s a sport, club or other activity. For some students, those activities are what pushes them to come to school each day, Tager said.

    Lastly, Tager believes the school’s recent focus on advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging has aided student success, as students naturally do better when they feel comfortable and valued.

    “Finding a connection for all students is the way to sustain and improve our graduation rate,” he said. “If students don’t feel they belong, your graduation rate is going to go down. You have to love all kids, that’s the key.”

    The school’s official graduation rate will be confirmed by the state in August, but Tager believes his projection will be accurate. Possible scenarios that would go against the school would include if a Bangor student moved away, but never re-enrolled in another school.

    Though Tager will retire later this month and turn the superintendent position over to Marie Robinson, he said another plan is to have graduation coaches connect with eighth-grade students at James F. Dougherty school before they even reach high school.

    Robinson will come to Bangor after serving as the superintendent of RSU 89 since 2019. During her tenure, Katahdin Middle High School, which has about 150 students, achieved a 100 percent graduation rate for three of the past six years and attendance rose by 5 percent in the last year alone.

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