Midstate’s troubled high schools post big gains

Telegraph staffDecember 11, 2013 

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D. Vidal Nichols, center, a Westside High School English teacher and Noles Nation tutor, gestures large to help drive home his students' understanding of adverbs.

BEAU CABELL — bcabell@macon.com Buy Photo

Students in Middle Georgia’s 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 area’s strongest high schools.

In Bibb County, most high schools again remained below the state average, but the county’s 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 year’s 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 year’s leader, dropped 12.9 percentage points to 58.7. Rutland High School increased its graduation rate to 72.3 percent to become the county’s 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.

“We’re focusing more on the needs of the students, and we’re becoming more efficient and effective. We’ve had to become efficient because of reduced funding for education, but we’re becoming more effective because we’re trying to limit what we’re doing,” Smith said.

Houston County’s 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 school’s success to a “culture of excellence.” Students know from the first day they are expected to excel, she said.

Also, the school’s 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 County’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.

Additionally, the district’s 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 we’re not going to be satisfied until we get that,” he said. “Some people say 100 percent is not realistic, but if that’s not your goal then you’re accepting that some kids are not going to pass, and we’re 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 County’s 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.

Georgia’s rate didn’t 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

SystemSchool2012
grad
rate
2013
grad
rate
Change
BaldwinAll schools62.864.82.0
Baldwin   Baldwin High School63.464.81.4
BibbAll schools52.361.18.8
Bibb   Central High School52.866.413.6
Bibb   Howard High School63.267.94.7
Bibb   Northeast High School47.152.55.4
Bibb   Rutland High School64.172.38.2
Bibb   Southwest High School39.145.66.5
Bibb   Westside High46.161.815.7
Bibb   William S. Hutchings Career Center71.658.7-12.9
BleckleyAll schools79.878.7-1.1
Bleckley   Bleckley County High School79.878.7-1.1
CrawfordAll schools57.162.35.2
Crawford   Crawford County High School58.262.34.1
Dublin CityAll schools73.666.1-7.5
Dublin City   Dublin High SChool88.083.0-5.0
Dublin City   Moore Street School10.718.98.2
HoustonAll schools75.678.83.2
Houston   Elberta Open Campus High School19.0
Houston   Houston County Career and Technology Center39.349.19.8
Houston   Houston County High School86.391.75.4
Houston   Northside High School72.576.94.4
Houston   Perry High School80.279.6-0.6
Houston   Veterans High School89.189.0-0.1
Houston   Warner Robins High School74.674.0-0.6
JonesAll schools70.376.66.3
Jones   Jones County High School74.976.61.7
LaurensAll schools70.278.68.4
Laurens   East Laurens High School66.177.611.5
Laurens   West Laurens High School73.279.36.1
MonroeAll schools79.885.25.4
Monroe   Mary Persons High School80.185.25.1
PeachAll schools64.963.3-1.6
Peach   Peach County High School66.663.3-3.3
TwiggsAll schools45.375.330.0
Twiggs   Twiggs County High School45.975.329.4
WilkinsonAll schools66.779.813.1
Wilkinson   Wilkinson County High School66.779.813.1
GeorgiaAll schools69.771.51.8

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