All but three members of the Brown County High School Class of 2017 received diplomas.

Of 151 students, 148 graduated, according to a report released by the Indiana Department of Education this month.

That makes the school’s graduation rate 98.01 percent — a slight decrease from the 2016 rate of 99.3 percent.

Principal Shane Killinger said two of the three students who didn’t receive a diploma still completed high school. They were in the high school’s life skills classes and received a certificate of completion instead. Students in that class have mild to moderate disabilities.

“They graduate, but they count against you,” Killinger said.

“That’s why, (when) we talk about 100 percent, (it) is really tough,” he said.

And it’s about to get even tougher.

Beginning next year, general diplomas will not be counted toward a school’s graduation rate because of a clause in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. It states that only a “regular high school diploma” — the diploma that is given to the greatest number of students — can be counted in the graduation rate.

In Indiana, that diploma is the Core 40. Diplomas that require more credits than the Core 40 also would count toward a school’s rate.

Under ESSA, the school’s graduation rate would not include general equivalency diplomas, certificates of completion, certificates of attendance or “any other similar or lesser credential, such as a diploma based on meeting individualized education program (IEP) goals,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

State Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, recently filed a resolution that urges the U.S. Congress to amend that clause.

Killinger said that if the ESSA rules go into effect, the high school’s graduation rate would drop by 20 percent.

Students still would be high school graduates if they received a general diploma, but they would not count toward the school’s rate.

Students who drop out or don’t transfer to a new school also count against a school’s graduation rate.

The other student among the three who didn’t receive a diploma last year was no longer attending school at the end of the year. But because the high school was unable to provide documentation showing where the student went, that student remained in the school’s count.

That likely will happen again, Killinger said. He knows of one underclassman who has not been showing up and school staff has been unable to locate her. “I would say she is somewhere working because she has to,” he said.

“I am in communication with the principal at her old school, thinking if she shows up there, he’ll let me know, or I’ll let him know, vice-versa. … Those are the tough ones.”

It takes a village to get diplomas in some graduates’ hands, Killinger said.

Teachers, guidance counselors, Centerstone counselors, the school’s graduation and career coach and family members who make sure students show up for school all have a role, he said.

Local mental health care provider Centerstone is a partner with the school district. Family support specialists from Centerstone have been working in all buildings since last school year. Additional family support specialists, recovery coaches and therapists also work in all six schools as needed.

“It’s a community effort. It’s not just the high school, it’s everyone that comes in contact with these kids,” he said.

The school’s alternative education program, Eagle Academy, also helps students finish school. The program is offered to students who have social anxiety in classroom settings, who need to earn extra credits, or who need to work part of the day because of pregnancy or other factors.

“My saying sometimes is, ‘Life gets in the way.’ They grow up too fast and they have to make hard choices. We’re just giving them an alternate way to earn a diploma,” he said.

A lot of the coursework is online, so students have to be motivated, Killinger said.

Students also can attend Eagle Academy for part of the day and then take other classes offered in the high school. “For some kids, it’s just having that nice, like almost a home base for them,” Killinger said.

Students don’t have to have an individualized education plan, or IEP, to be in Eagle Academy. Students are accepted on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Eagle Academy also is a good landing place for students who move into the district later in a semester.

“If a student is already behind and struggling, putting them in a class over halfway through, that’s a recipe for disaster, because they don’t have the building blocks they need,” he said.

Killinger said the goal is always to get a 100 percent graduation rate. “But 98 percent, and knowing why we’re at 98 percent, we’re very proud and very happy.”

Brown County High School and state graduation rates

Brown County High School

2016-17: 98.03 percent

2015-16: 99.30 percent

2014-15: 90.10 percent

2013-14: 92.30 percent

2012-13: 91.20 percent

2011-12: 91 percent

2010-11: 94.30 percent

2009-10: 89.30 percent

2008-09: 89.30 percent

State

2016-17: 87.19 percent

2015-16: 89.07 percent

2014-15: 88.90 percent

2013-14: 90 percent

2012-13: 88.60 percent

2011-12: 88.70 percent

2010-11: 87.10 percent

2009-10: 85.90 percent

2008-09: 83.30 percent

SOURCE: Indiana Department of Education

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.