Nearly every high school in Mesa County improved their graduation rates this year, according to Colorado Department of Education data released Wednesday.
School District 51 was also higher than the state's average graduation rate for the fourth year in a row.
District leaders and principals attribute the growth to systemic changes, from individualized education and better interventions for struggling students to focusing on relationships.
The Grand Valley's four largest high schools all had improved four-year graduation rates from the 2016-2017 school year to the 2017-2018 school year.
Central High School's graduation rate increased from 83.6 percent to 88.3 percent, Fruita Monument's rate grew from 88.9 percent to 90.2 percent, Palisade's rate increased from 86.8 percent to 87.4 percent and Grand Junction's rate grew from 83 percent to 86.3 percent.
"Our high schools have worked really hard to be innovative and creative and tap into students' passions," said Fruita Monument Principal Todd McClaskey. "High school has really evolved into providing multiple pathways to students to reach their destination for graduation."
Principals from all four high schools said that graduation rates are the effort of all grades, not just high schools.
"Graduation isn't a one year effort," said Palisade Principal Dan Bollinger. "What elementary schools do is as impactful as what we do in high school."
Bollinger said improving graduation rates starts with a broad look at existing systems and programs and then zeroes in on individual students.
"You're constantly looking for your systems to be better and you are working with individual kids and reaching out to kids that are struggling and maybe have already dropped out but you want to pull them back in," Bollinger said.
Grand Junction High School Principal Meghan Roenicke said the combined impact of better academic options, more support staff and continuous teacher effort is making the difference.
"Our valley as a whole works really hard to support kids in the community," she said. "The teachers are bending over backward every day to meet the needs of the kids in their rooms. We've added positions over the years that are really focused on trying to keep kids in school, whether it's attendance advocates or trauma coaches or more counselors. Each school has their own formula for what works."
Central High School Principal Lanc Sellden said the school is looking at working with students before their senior year to make sure they're on track to graduate — and if not, to look at other options.
"We're really trying to find those kids who may have fallen through the cracks and trying to address their needs earlier," he said.
The school district's continued growth is a result of hard work at all grade levels, said Assistant Superintendent Scott Cooper. "The individualized learning opportunities we're providing with the D51 learning model is in full swing, and all that adds up to positive graduation results," he said.