Graduation rates surpassing state's climb
Shearouse said many times a lot of pressure is placed on the teachers to make sure students succeed, but it is everyone’s responsibility. “It takes everyone working together to get the graduation rate up,” he said.
The graduation rate at Effingham County High School for the 2006-07 school year was the same as the state at 72.3 percent. While the state improved 1.5 percent, ECHS had an improvement of 7.3 percent.
ECHS Principal Yancy Ford said he thought the option to look at students who could meet state minimum requirements helped. “We put kids under contract,” he said. “What I mean is they had to meet with me weekly. There were criteria they had to follow. They kept a notebook. They had to go to study session courses if they hadn’t passed the high school graduation test yet.”
Ford said the students used a computer program called "Links to Learning," a program that is available to all students at the school to prepare for the high school graduation test. The program, available on the Internet, gives students sample questions to prepare for the high school graduation test.
“The kids who worked through it, we felt like they scored a lot better,” Ford said. “We encourage kids to go on this program who may not need additional help because they’re up to speed. The biggest thing this does for them is it refreshes their memory before the test.
“We put our hands on the kids that were struggling that we knew were borderline,” Ford said. “We showed a little TLC to them and made them come see us once a week, made them accountable for what they were responsible for as far as passing the high school graduation test, and really following up on those kids as far as their academics go.”
Ford said when students go before the graduation committee to graduate under the state requirements, the committee looks at the notebook the students have kept as part of their contract. “I didn’t have any kids not do it that we sat down with,” Ford said.
Students who signed up for contract to walk were those who had not passed the high school graduation test. “We put them through this training and the contract to put a little pressure on them, but at the same time, it allowed us to monitor what they were doing," he said. After the students answer the questions, they are given the correct answers with an explanation. If students don’t understand an explanation, they are encouraged to go to a teacher in the department and ask for help.
Ford said students who fall below 70 percent during the academic term are assigned to tutoring. If the students don’t go to the tutoring, they must meet with him and the staff to call the parents to find out why the students are not staying for tutoring sessions. “I think just a lot of hard work from our teachers of working with kids so they have numerous opportunities not to fail,” Ford said, “whether it be a kid not completing their homework, and the teacher giving them another opportunity to come in during tutoring and complete that homework.”
Ford said he thinks that has a huge impact on students’ success. “That personal connection with the kids is probably going to be the biggest thing to help graduation rates,” he said. "The math, the science, the social studies, that’s good. It’s a requirement and they need to know it, but if the kids know you care about them, they’re going to definitely give effort.”
Effingham County High’s teachers have played a large role in improving the graduation rate, according to Ford, “going above and beyond the call of duty to allow kids to make up work that they may not have completed, or they may not have understood.”
“Our teachers need to be recognized for going above and beyond, because they’re the ones pedaling the bicycle, so to speak, of making that work,” he said. Ford said he can give teachers ideas and offer assistance, but they are the people who are working with the students everyday. “Sometimes it’s difficult when a kid doesn’t do homework for three nights in a row, and I appreciate them for doing that,” he said. “It’s not rocket science. You just have to roll your sleeves up and get a little dirty and spend some time with kids and know that all of them don’t have the perfect life outside of school, and we have to be flexible.”
South Effingham High School’s graduation rate was at 74.4 percent last year, more than 3 percent above the state average, and has increased to 76.5 percent this year, compared to the states 72.3 percent average.
Roni Edenfield, instructional supervisor at SEHS, said there are many factors that affect graduation rates. “The biggest piece to graduation rate is whether students earn enough credits, whether they pass the graduation test, whether we monitor the at risk things,” she said.
Teachers print progress reports every four and a half weeks and share this information with counselors. Counselors monitor grades and work with parents and students to make sure that everything is being done to support students through classes in which they are struggling.
Edenfield said the number of credits earned by students is monitored continuously. “There are safety nets in place like our evening education program for students who may become at risk for not earning enough credits,” she said. Edenfield said it is important to monitor students to ensure they do not fall through the cracks. Graduation coach Erin Watson also has been able to pick up some of the pieces other administrators have been able to watch closely. Edenfield said it takes a lot of time to monitor at risk factors, and Watson has been able to follow those on a daily basis, including scores for the graduation test.
SEHS began a contract program last January for seniors who failed one or more sections of the GHSGT. They wrote 46 contracts; of those, 38 students eventually passed the GHSGT and graduated on time.
Edenfield said monitoring is done through teacher referrals, monitoring discipline, grades and attendance, since any of those factors can contribute to a student leaving school. When needed, counseling, intervention, support and youth apprenticeship are used to help students. “Often a student who is at risk will choose to stay in school, if they are presented the opportunity to participate in a career tech area that is related to their interests,” Edenfield said.
"Counselors at South Effingham High work with career, technical and adult education coordinator Angie Wood to place students in courses or work-based programs that help them in a vocational area.”
SEHS is starting to see the fruits of the labor of a ninth grade counselor, Edenfield said, who is able to work with students who already are showing signs of being at risk. The grade counselor has the time to meet with the three teams in the ninth grade academy every week and to work with individual students.