More students across Middle Georgia are leaving high school with a diploma, findings released Tuesday showed.
Midstate districts showed mostly nominal gains in their four-year graduation rates, but graduation rates in one school system went up by more than 8 percentage points. Not all high schools showed year over year gains, though.
Figures from the Georgia Department of Education showed the 2015-16 graduation rate in Georgia at 79.2 percent, up from 78.8 percent last year.
Bibb County showed similar gains, increasing from 71.2 to 71.6 percent. Houston County went from 84.9 to 86.7 percent; Jones from 78.4 to 85.9; and Monroe from 87.8 to 88. The graduation rate in Peach County went from 82.8 to 91 percent for the 2015-2016 school year.
Bibb County’s rate was 58.9 percent in 2014, and the substantially higher numbers the past two years show that the school system is making real strides, Superintendent Curtis Jones said.
Remediation efforts and the Twilight Program at Westside High, an alternative learning school that meets at night, have made a difference, he said. In addition, high schools are doing a better job of keeping track of students and helping get them back in class if they leave.
Jones thinks graduation rates in Bibb County will continue to improve through initiatives including partnerships between Bibb high schools and universities, such as Howard High and Mercer University. He also expects a boost as more students enroll in the Hutchings College and Career Academy, a workforce development program that students can attend during part of their high school career.
Houston County’s higher graduation rate is due in part to the system’s focus on individual students and providing them with the assistance they need early on, Superintendent Mark Scott said.
For example, students who fail a class in the ninth grade can work to redeem that credit. The schools try to offer a variety of activities and programs — from agriculture programs to band — so students will want to come back to school.
“Not only are we above the state average, but we’re continuing to improve at a faster rate than the state as a whole,” Scott said. “A challenge always with teenagers is to engage the kids. I feel like all of our schools are doing a better job.”
Peach County has shown a lot of growth and improvement, Superintendent Daryl Fineran said. Peach County High School was at 68.6 percent in 2014 but has been above the state average the past two years.
“We just spend a lot of time in the classroom and focused on the standards and focused on teaching bell to bell,” he said. “Our teachers have bought into it, and our administrators see that they are doing that. There’s always room for improvement.”
Monroe County school Superintendent Mike Hickman said the 88 percent graduation rate at Mary Persons High School represents a collective effort of students, teachers and administrators. The district is always evaluating its programs and looking for new ways to keep students interested. For instance, JROTC was added this year.
“I think (the rate) speaks to our kids being motivated and inspired to attend school. We’re providing more opportunities for kids to be engaged now,” Hickman said. “I think we’re doing a better job of tracking students and knowing which students are being successful and which students might need a little help.”
Hickman pointed to interventions such as an achievement center that helps students who have fallen behind, and a graduation coach and counselors who made sure students stay on target and know the graduation requirements.
Jones County also monitors at-risk students through a graduation coach, and staff members have ongoing training to learn how to meet the needs of students, Superintendent Charles Gibson said. The school system is looking to expand career, technical and agricultural education programs and advanced academic opportunities in the future.
“Initiatives such as collaborative planning among teachers, disaggregation of data and differentiated instruction have increased student achievement, leading to success across all disciplines and ultimately an increase in our graduation rate,” Gibson said in an email. “Until we are 100 percent, we are not satisfied and will continue to seek improvement each year.”
Andrea Honaker: 478-744-4382, @andi384
Four-year graduation rates
Howard High School
Central High School
Westside High School
Rutland High School
Northeast High School
Southwest High School
Veterans High School
Houston County Crossroads Center
Houston County High School
Perry High School
Northside High School
Warner Robins High School
Jones County High School
Monroe County High School
Peach County High School