Students in Middle Georgias most troubled high schools are much more likely to graduate these days.
Numbers released Wednesday show graduation rates surged in 2013 at schools that had been lucky to graduate half their students just last year.
Despite the improvements, however, those schools still have plenty more ground to make up to catch the areas strongest high schools.
In Bibb County, most high schools again remained below the state average, but the countys graduation rate overall increased 8.8 percentage points to 61.1 percent in a single year. In Houston County, the district graduated 78.8 percent of its students in 2013, an increase of 3.2 percentage points. The district has trumped the state graduation rate, which in 2013 was 71.5 percent, for at least three years in a row.
The most dramatic change was in Twiggs County, where fewer than half the students graduated in 2012. The graduation rate leaped about 30 percentage points, to 75.3 percent, for the class of 2013. Principal Jamie Paulk credited the increase to hard work, including one-on-one coaching, efforts to bring parents into the school and even home visits by staff.
In Bibb County, Westside and Central high schools posted double-digit improvements from last years rates, which were close to 50 percent. Only at Southwest High School did fewer than half the students graduate, though Southwest posted a 6.5-percentage-point increase to 45.6 percent. Hutchings Career Center, last years leader, dropped 12.9 percentage points to 58.7. Rutland High School increased its graduation rate to 72.3 percent to become the countys leader.
Bibb County interim Superintendent Steve Smith said the school system is positioning itself for more improvement, including efforts to analyze where schools fall short. Teachers also are working smarter and better than ever before, Smith said. Funding cuts took away teaching days and cut school counselors and graduation coaches. The system is trying new tactics, including moving away from a scattershot of programs that may not work.
Were focusing more on the needs of the students, and were becoming more efficient and effective. Weve had to become efficient because of reduced funding for education, but were becoming more effective because were trying to limit what were doing, Smith said.
Houston Countys regular high schools remained above the state average, though some lost a modest amount of ground and others still made progress. The Houston County Career Academy, a charter school, increased its graduation rate from 39.3 percent to 49.1 percent. Houston County High School moved more than a third of the way to graduating all its students, bringing its rate from 86.3 percent to 91.7 percent.
At Houston County High, Principal Michelle Masters mainly attributes her schools success to a culture of excellence. Students know from the first day they are expected to excel, she said.
Also, the schools teacher-planning schedule makes a difference. Each subject has the same planning period, which allows teachers to better collaborate and offer more tutoring. Teachers also forge strong relationships with students, which makes a difference, she said.
On a district level, some of that success is due to the way employees educate students -- they try to prepare them for life instead of solely focusing on making good grades, said Eric Payne, Houston Countys assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
Additionally, the districts intervention programs help students succeed. Teachers also have been integrating more writing exercises into all subjects, including math and science, which benefit students, he said.
Our goal is 100 percent, and were not going to be satisfied until we get that, he said. Some people say 100 percent is not realistic, but if thats not your goal then youre accepting that some kids are not going to pass, and were not going to do that.
Wilkinson County increased its graduation rate by 13.1 percentage points; where two-thirds of its students graduated last year, four-fifths graduated this year.
Peach County High School was the only midstate school performing below the state average that lost more ground. The school dropped 3.3 percentage points, with 63.3 percent of its students graduating.
Both Laurens County high schools posted strong gains, while the high-performing Dublin High School lost ground.
Monroe Countys Mary Persons High School improved its graduation rate to 85.2 percent, closing about a quarter of the gap to the perfect score. Jones County High School posted increases of 1.7 percentage points, to 76.6 percent.
Georgias rate didnt see changes as dramatic. The state average increased 1.8 percentage points, from 69.7 percent to 71.5 percent. The graduation rates take into account how many students graduate from a school within four years.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.
High school graduation rates
|Baldwin||Baldwin High School||63.4||64.8||1.4|
|Bibb||Central High School||52.8||66.4||13.6|
|Bibb||Howard High School||63.2||67.9||4.7|
|Bibb||Northeast High School||47.1||52.5||5.4|
|Bibb||Rutland High School||64.1||72.3||8.2|
|Bibb||Southwest High School||39.1||45.6||6.5|
|Bibb||William S. Hutchings Career Center||71.6||58.7||-12.9|
|Bleckley||Bleckley County High School||79.8||78.7||-1.1|
|Crawford||Crawford County High School||58.2||62.3||4.1|
|Dublin City||All schools||73.6||66.1||-7.5|
|Dublin City||Dublin High SChool||88.0||83.0||-5.0|
|Dublin City||Moore Street School||10.7||18.9||8.2|
|Houston||Elberta Open Campus High School||19.0|
|Houston||Houston County Career and Technology Center||39.3||49.1||9.8|
|Houston||Houston County High School||86.3||91.7||5.4|
|Houston||Northside High School||72.5||76.9||4.4|
|Houston||Perry High School||80.2||79.6||-0.6|
|Houston||Veterans High School||89.1||89.0||-0.1|
|Houston||Warner Robins High School||74.6||74.0||-0.6|
|Jones||Jones County High School||74.9||76.6||1.7|
|Laurens||East Laurens High School||66.1||77.6||11.5|
|Laurens||West Laurens High School||73.2||79.3||6.1|
|Monroe||Mary Persons High School||80.1||85.2||5.1|
|Peach||Peach County High School||66.6||63.3||-3.3|
|Twiggs||Twiggs County High School||45.9||75.3||29.4|
|Wilkinson||Wilkinson County High School||66.7||79.8||13.1|