Bibb, Houston graduation rates up overall but still too low, educators say

jmink@macon.comMay 21, 2013 

As thousands of midstate students prepare to walk the graduation line Friday and Saturday, the statewide graduation rate is slowly climbing.

Still, officials say too many students are not graduating, and there is much room for improvement.

An average 69.7 percent of high school students in Georgia received diplomas in 2012 -- a 2.3 percentage point increase from the previous year, state officials announced Tuesday.

In the midstate, graduation rates are a mixed bag. Rates for many school districts increased, while some dipped. For some districts, even though rates increased, they are still below the state average.

Others posted graduation rates that were up to 10 percentage points higher than the state average. That includes Monroe County, with a graduation rate of 79.8 percent. Meanwhile, Twiggs County had one of the lowest rates at 45.3 percent.

Statewide, officials are placing a bigger emphasis on preparing students for life after high school. A new school assessment program is aimed at college and career readiness, and graduation rates will factor into schools’ overall scores. State Superintendent John Barge said he was pleased the statewide graduation rate continues to increase.

“While our graduation rate is still far too low and we have much progress to be made, we are moving in the right direction,” Barge said in a news release. “In order to encourage more students to stay in school, we must make high school more relevant.”

Midstate administrators echoed that sentiment. In Bibb County, the graduation rate was 52.3 percent in 2012, compared with 51.3 percent in 2011. In Houston County, the 2012 rate was 75.6 percent, compared with 73.2 percent in 2011.

“We’re pleased to see progress, but obviously we’re not where we want to be,” said Eric Payne, Houston County assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. “Our goal is to get to 100 percent.”

Administrators are pursuing that goal by focusing on students’ future careers and showing them how high school affects their lives. Realizing that connection can make the difference for a student who is at risk for dropping out, Payne said.

The district plans to open next academic year the Edge Academy, a place for high school students who are five or more credits behind their peers. The academy is geared toward students who are on the verge of dropping out and have lost hope of graduating high school. Through smaller class sizes and computer-based classes, the academy will give them an opportunity to catch up and graduate.

“We get caught up in the numbers, and you have to have numbers to give you a measurement, but the purpose is to get kids to graduate,” Payne said. “It’s to help them see the benefits of what that degree does for them and to help them be a positive contributor to society.”

In Houston County, Veterans High School had the highest 2012 rate at 89.1 percent, while the district’s alternative school, now called the Houston County Crossroads Center, had the lowest at 19.1 percent. In Bibb County, Hutchings Career Center had the highest graduation rate at 71.6 percent, while Southwest High School had the lowest at 39.1 percent, according to state data. Rates in both districts increased from 2011.

“We are pleased that we’re moving in a direction where we’re graduating more students, but we still have a long way to go,” said Susanne Griffin-Ziebart, acting superintendent of Bibb County schools. “Our goal is to graduate all our students, and from that perspective, there is work to be done.”

Next year, schools will place a bigger emphasis on math initiatives in middle and high schools, as well as literacy initiatives in elementary schools. Currently, school officials are increasing classroom learning time and are placing students who struggle in intervention programs.

Educators work with those students to increase their proficiency in areas, particularly math and reading, said Jane Drennan, Bibb’s deputy superintendent for teaching and learning.

“We are encouraged,” Griffin-Ziebart said. “We are excited about the trend that we see.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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