Georgia's four-year high school graduation rate continued to climb, reaching 72.5 percent with the Class of 2014, according to data released Thursday by the state Department of Education.
The trend was even more pronounced in Bulloch County. The school system's four-year cohort graduation rate for the Class of 2014 was 75.1 percent, a jump of 3.4 percentage points from the 2013 rate. A higher percentage of students graduated on time at each of the system's three high schools as well as the independent Charter Conservatory, the data show.
State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge was pleased with the 1 percentage-point rise in Georgia's overall public high school four-year cohort rate from 2013, and the 5.1 percentage-point increase since 2011. This rate calculates the number of students who graduate within four years of entering ninth grade and includes adjustments for students who transfer schools. The state rate has increased every year since 2011.
"This is something to celebrate," Barge said in a news release accompanying the new graduation data. "When we see the graduation rate consistently trending upward and when we see a greater percentage of our students graduating from our public high schools, we are talking about individual students and individual dreams. We're talking about students whose options and futures expanded when they obtained a high-school diploma. So we are celebrating their victories, and turning toward the future, and the work necessary to make those dreams a reality for an even higher percentage of students."
Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson took a more philosophical approach. Bulloch County's graduation rate has risen 6.1 percentage points since 2011, though there was a drop from 2012 to 2013 before the rebound to the 75.1 percent graduation rate for the Class of 2014.
"While I do not believe that anyone can take full credit for something that cannot be fully explained, I do believe that we can point to success factors that were intentional and measure whether they are working," he said. "A little over two years ago, we began developing a foundation for school improvement that is tested and proven. That started with creating a community vision and setting expectations. Then we began focusing our system resources on appropriate support."
He said the district's effort to more accurately and consistently report data is an example, something that has helped schools better understand students' strengths and weaknesses. That, in turn, has helped teachers more effectively improve students' skills.
Wilson credited Dr. Shawn Haralson, who served as the principal of Portal Middle High School until this year, Southeast Bulloch High School Principal Donna Clifton and Dr. Ken LeCain, the acting principal of Statesboro High School, with establishing "an accountable and supportive student-focused culture" and empowering their teachers and staff.
SEB led the way among Bulloch County high schools, posting a 7.1 percentage point increase to 84.4 percent of the Class of 2014 graduating on time. That is also a 12.2 percentage point rise from the Class of 2011.
"Our focus at SEBHS is student learning which lends itself to our school goal of increasing our graduation rate," Clifton said. "It is a testament of students, faculty/staff, parents and community working together.
Portal's graduation rate was 77.3 percent for the Class of 2014. That is up from 76.7 percent in 2013 and 69.6 percent in 2011.
"We're extremely pleased with the rise in our graduation rate," said Dr. Karen Doty, who is in her first year as Portal's principal after serving several years as the principal of Langston Chapel Elementary School. "By graduating, we know that this opens many doors for our students' college and career opportunities."
LeCain was more subdued in his comments. Statesboro High's 2014 graduation rate was 69.8 percent, an increase from 67.5 percent in 2014. But the rate has fluctuated, starting at 67.5 percent in 2011, rising to a high of 71.7 percent in 2012 and dropping back to 67.5 percent in 2013 before rising again in 2014.
"For the 2014 cohort year, Statesboro High School experienced a slight increase in the graduation rate," he said. "Although we are pleased we saw improvement in this area, this increase did not meet our expectations in terms of growth."
He said the school has adopted professional learning communities, which allows teachers at each grade level to have common planning times. This will allow teachers to work together and share information on students' strengths and weaknesses across subjects, especially for students at risk of not graduating.
"During the common planning time, teachers are able to identify struggling students in their grade-levels and create plans to help them," LeCain said. "It is our belief that these interventions aimed at our at-risk students will provide an increase in the graduation rate."
Charter Conservatory, a public school in Statesboro that is not affiliated with the Bulloch County school system, is much smaller than the other public schools and therefore sees greater changes in its graduation rates from year to year. The Class of 2014's graduation rate was 79.2 percent, which is a 9-point jump from 2013 but still 5 points lower than the 2012 graduating class. The 2011 class was too small to calculate a rate.
Director Corliss Reese said the staff in recent years has put more emphasis on using the flexibility Charter Conservatory has a charter school and has "passed that on to our students by allowing them greater flexibility with scheduling and assisting them with targeting their individual needs."
"The culture of our school lends itself to instilling the passion to succeed in our students," he said. "Our students come to school each day knowing that their teachers care about them and their futures, which in turn gives them further reason to care. By continuing to put our students first, we anticipate that we will continue to see an upward trend."
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.