Graduation Walk Earns 2015 Magna Award from NSBA

nsba-awardA grassroots effort started in 2009 to increase the graduation rate in Des Moines is a recipient of the 2015 Magna Award from the National School Boards Association.

Des Moines Public Schools’ Graduation Walk is the First Place Winner in the Over 20,000 Students category of the 21st annual Magna Award. The Graduation Walk, which is supported by United Way of Central Iowa and Wells Fargo, aims to encourage recent dropouts to return to school as well as support students who are behind in academic credits.

“We engage a number of programs and tactics that contribute increasing the graduation rate and helping more students succeed in school, but the Graduation Walk has been something that has gotten the community’s attention about the importance of our efforts,” said Dr. Tom Ahart, superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools. “I hope this recognition will encourage other school districts to take a grassroots approach and involve their community in helping more and more students earn their high school diploma.”

The Graduation Walk initiative has seen steady growth and success since the beginning. In the first year of the project, 222 volunteers knocked on 308 doors. Last August, 342 volunteers knocked on 1,260 doors. The growing participation in and engagement of the effort has raised awareness of both the importance of this issue and the resources available to support students. The district has seen a decline in the dropout rate and an increase in the graduation rate. In 2009, the dropout rate was 5 percent and the graduation rate was 73 percent. In 2014, the district’s dropout rate was 4 percent and the graduation rate was over 79 percent.

The Magna Awards recognize school districts and their leaders for taking bold and innovative steps to improve the lives of their students and their communities. The Magna Awards, supported by Sodexo, honor districts across the country for outstanding programs. An independent panel of school board members, administrators, and other educators selected the winners.

“In a time when public schools are under attack, we are pleased to showcase schools and their leaders who are dedicated to innovation and excellence,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director of NSBA. “The winning programs are proof that public education is leading the way to advance student achievement.”

This year’s three grand prize, 15 first place, and 15 honorable mention winners were selected from three enrollment categories: under 5,000 students, 5,000 to 20,000 students, and over 20,000 students. Each of the winning school districts will be recognized during a special presentation at NSBA’s 75th Annual Conference, to be held March 21 to 23 in Nashville.

“Sodexo’s commitment to student well-being and achievement extends beyond the nearly 500 districts with which we currently partner and is focused on supporting all students nationwide, which is why we proudly sponsor the annual Magna Awards for the 21st consecutive year,” said Steve Dunmore, President of Sodexo Education-Schools. “We applaud the innovative spirit these winning districts possess and we share their passion for improving quality of life and education for students.”

All of the 2015 winners are highlighted in the April issue of the American School Board Journal. In addition to the ASBJ special section, the districts’ winning entries are posted at

Click here for the ASBJ article on the Graduation Walk.

Click here to download photos from the 2014 Graduation Walk.

The complete list of Magna Award winners is as follows:

Grand Prize Winners

  • Over 20,000 students: ABC Unified School District (CA)
  • 5,000 to 20,000 students: Albemarle County Public Schools (VA)
  • Under 5,000 students: Swan Valley School District (MI)

First Place Winners – over 20,000 students

  • Arlington Public Schools (VA)
  • Des Moines Public Schools (IA)
  • Humble Independent School District (TX)
  • Paradise Valley Unified School District (AZ)
  • Vancouver Public Schools (WA)

First Place Winners – 5,000 to 20,000 students

  • Cave Creek Unified School District (AZ)
  • Encinitas Union School District (CA)
  • South Bay Union School District (CA)
  • Topeka Public Schools (KS)
  • Tuscaloosa City Schools (AL)

First Place Winners – Under 5,000 students

  • Franklin Special School District (TN)
  • Mercer Area School District (PA)
  • Sauk Rapids-Rice School District (ISD 47) (MN)
  • Unionville-Chadds Ford School District (PA)
  • Valley View Independent School District (TX)

Honorable mentions – over 20,000 students

  • Cherokee County School District (GA)
  • Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (TN)
  • Pomona Unified School District (CA)
  • Richland School District Two (SC)
  • St. Tammany Parish Public School System (LA)

 Honorable mentions – 5,000 to 20,000 students

  • Cajon Valley Union School District (CA)
  • Center Grove Community Schools (IN)
  • Commack Union Free School District (NY)
  • Roanoke County Public Schools (VA)
  • Ritenour School District (MO)

Honorable mentions – under 5,000 students

  • Belton School District #124 (MO)
  • Bristol City Schools (TN)
  • Mineola Union Free School District (NY)
  • Owensboro Public Schools (KY)
  • West Valley School District #208 (WA)