Hamilton County Schools' overall graduation rate for the 2018-19 school year remained steady but trailed the state's with about 86.9% of the system's students graduating high school within four years.

The Tennessee Department of Education released district and school graduation rates for 2018-19 school year unexpectedly Monday, with the state overall reaching its highest graduation rate on record at 89.7%.

"Earning a diploma is the first step toward economic self-sufficiency," Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson said in a news release. "Especially if the diploma represents a high-value set of skills that will prepare a graduate for success after high school."

Three Hamilton County high schools saw a 100% graduation rate: Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences Upper School and Lookout Valley Middle/High School.

In addition, nine schools in Hamilton County outperformed the state's graduation rate with 90% of more of their students graduating in the 2018-19 school year.

Those schools included East Hamilton School, Hamilton County Collegiate High at Chattanooga State, Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, Ivy Academy, STEM School Chattanooga, Sale Creek Middle/High, Sequoyah High, Signal Mountain Middle/High and Soddy-Daisy High School.

Some of Hamilton County's lowest graduation rates included The Howard School with 63.1% and Brainerd High School with 69.3% graduating.

Neighboring counties, including Meigs and Bradley, saw the highest graduation rates for the southeast region of the state with Meigs County Schools hitting 98.4% and Bradley County Schools reaching 93.8%, the sixth year in a row that the district has had a rate above 91%, according to a statement from Bradley County's Director of Schools Linda Cash.

"We had an increase this year as we went from a graduation rate of 92.2% to a rate of 93.8%. This is above the state graduation rate of 89.7% and is also the second highest graduation rate in the Southeast Core. Congratulations to Meigs County for their tremendous work in graduating students," Cash said in a statement.

While Bradley County Schools hopes to increase its graduation rate to 95% by 2021, Johnson's goal for Hamilton County mirrors Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn's goal of reaching 90% for the state.

"While this is certainly something to celebrate, I know we can do even better. Ultimately, I would like to see all 130 districts that serve high school students have a 90 [percent] graduation [rate] or better," Schwinn said in a statement. "That's something my team will be very focused on over the next four years, along with making sure those students have a career or college path in mind the day they walk across the stage to get that diploma."

Johnson noted that transiency, including new students already behind in credits who move into Hamilton County, students who move out of the district and disappear from the rosters and students who might struggle with English as a second language or those who are pursuing a special education diploma as the biggest challenges facing districts when it comes to graduation rates.

Nonetheless, he said he and his team were encouraged.

"Future Ready 2023 has numbers as goals, but success is much more than numbers. Success means opening doors to the future for new graduates of Hamilton County Schools," Johnson said in a statement. "Seniors exiting high school prepared for the opportunities available in college, career technical education, or in their chosen career means a brighter tomorrow for themselves, their families, and our community as a whole."

Contact Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757- 6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.