Grad rates up across county

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 17, 2014

Graduation rates for two area school systems showed marked improvement in 2013, while one system saw an overall drop.

Figures released from the Alabama Department of Education this week are calculated using a formula calculating the percentage of freshmen who, four years later, graduate with a diploma. The method is Layout 1the most widely used across the nation.

Andalusia and Opp city school systems each saw growth from the previous year’s rate.

AHS ended the 2013 school year with 80 percent of its seniors earning a diploma. That figure is a 5 percent increase from 2012.

Superintendent Ted Watson said this is the third consecutive year of improvement for AHS.

“Still, we’re not where we want to be,” Watson said of the figure. “There was a substantial improvement statewide, and we kind of followed those numbers.”

Watson attributed the rise in graduation rates to several programs, including the recently implemented “eblocks.”

“We’re on the block schedule, which means we have four blocks a day,” Watson said. “With eblocks, we’ve carved out a small period of time – about 40 minutes – during the day when kids who are behind, or who have not shown a proficiency in a class, can get the extra help.”

Watson said the eblocks are tailored to the specific needs of the student, allowing for extra help in core subjects like science, math and English. Watson also credited and increased awareness of attendance and a sense of urgency on the part of the school system for the recent uptick in graduation numbers.

“I’m extremely proud,” Watson said. “Mr. Shakespeare and the staff do an amazing job. The pressure the state puts on schools is pretty intense, but we feel like we’ve always answered the bell, and we intend to keep doing so.”

Opp ended the year with 88 percent of seniors earning a diploma – a 4 percent increase from the 2012 figure.

Like most superintendents, Opp’s Michael Smithart said he hopes to see higher numbers in the future. He said the rise can be attributed to the commitment of the faulty, staff, administration and parents of OHS students, but stressed the results are not just the work of Opp’s high school.

“Grad rates obviously reflect your high school, but that’s just where they manifest,” Smithart said. “It’s a k-through-12 process. From the first day the kids walk in, to the last day as they walk out, our system works hard to make everyday meaningful. It takes everyone.”

Smithart said he is pleased with the higher graduation rate, but added the most important thing to take from the stat, is that it can be raised.

“We’re excited and pleased, but not satisfied,” he said.

The county school system – which includes high schools in Florala, Pleasant Home, Red Level and Straughn – ended the year with 80 percent of its seniors earning a diploma.

On an individual school level, FHS had the largest decrease in terms of both percentage and the difference from the previous year’s figure, with 70 percent of its students graduating. In 2012, 73 percent of the school’s seniors earned a diploma.

Superintendent Shannon Driver said that there has been a system-wide improvement for the last four years.

“We’ve gone from 70 percent for the system to 82 percent, so I feel pretty good about things,” he said. “Of course, we’re not where we want to be. As for Florala, when you have such small class sizes, one or two dropouts can really impact your numbers.”

Straughn High, however, had the largest gain in graduating seniors at schools in the county.

Figures show that 83 percent of the senior class earned a diploma – a 7 percent increase from the total in 2012.

SHS Principal John Evers credits individualized instruction for the increase.

“The way we work is that when we see a student with a deficiency, we work with that student one-on-one,” Evers said. “Instruction is individualized, and we ask, ‘What does this student need?’

“And we use every resource we have,” he said. “We alter schedules, what ever it takes. It’s all about knowing your kids, working with them and giving them what they need.”