CONCORD -- On a scorching day in the East Bay, the only number higher than the outside temperature was the Concord High School graduation rate announced by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.
Celebrating the 32nd annual "California Day of the Teacher," in the school's library, Torlakson said "Concord High graduation rate is at 94 percent. Nine out of 10 students are getting forward in life, to success."
Activities statewide honored teachers and thanked them for their civic contributions, and the Concord High event attracted a host of education officials.
Torlakson, Mt. Diablo Unified Superintendent Nellie Meyer, Guy Moore, president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association, Concord High Principal Gary McAdam and Student Body President Azeema Yahwa heralded the school's achievements. Meyer said graduation rates are the strongest indicators of a school's success.
"It's a tribute to the work that has gone on here at Concord High, to see that 94," she said at the May 13 ceremony. "It tells me that students are being monitored, cared for and encouraged to be leaders."
As a granddaughter, niece, daughter and spouse of teachers, Meyer said, "I appreciate how hard the job is," but noted teachers have the flexibility and determination to adapt to a changing educational landscape.
McAdam said that despite poverty and other issues, the school's "fantastic stats" were "a testimony to the hope and power of public education."
While the overall graduation rate increased, he drew attention to specific student sectors. Rates for Latino students went from 86 to 92.9 percent, and African American student graduation percentages increased from 63 to 88.9 percent, according to McAdam.
Suggesting the school's implementation of teacher-supported intervention enrichment classes were a key component of the improved statistics -- and, thereby, students' potential for future employment -- he said, "Teachers make other professions possible."
Moore, flanked by students in school leadership positions and several teachers, said, "The work we do today enriches the future of civilization."
Graduation, he said, is the first, critical step for students hoping for a better future.
Yahwa, a senior who plans to study political science and public relations, demonstrated early potential as a naturally gifted speaker with a sense of humor.
"Every teacher here wants the best for every student," she said. "Due to their help, students are on the right track. Teaching is the most selfless job, because you have to put up with us."
In separate comments, she said teachers have earned trust and respect by helping students outside of classroom hours.
"It's not just their job. That goes hand-in-hand with us (students) working hard, too. I wanted to be student body president. I love my school so I wanted to be the one to give back."
Having changed her previous plans to study medicine, Yahwa said that given the chance to legislate in school improvement efforts, she'd bring back fourth- and fifth-grade music.
"Playing flute and piano changed my life. It created a second family and brought me close to my student body."
Torlakson recalled his long career as a teacher -- dating as far back as a backpacking and conservation summer course he taught in 1974 -- and threw out an acronym he liked: TEAM (Together Everyone Accomplishes More).
He said the Common Core curriculum will better connect students to the real world, and school boards are increasingly trusted by the district for its implementation. Even so, he said the statewide graduation rate, which jumped from close to 70 percent to 80.2 this year, was not enough.
"There's still a terrible dropout rate (11.5 percent), which I want to turn around," he insisted.
Inviting everyone in the room to close their eyes and picture a teacher who helped them, Torlakson suggested offering words that would be welcomed by any teacher: "Thank you."