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Graduation rates increase at most local schools
Noah Issac walks out with the rest of the 2015 class at the Flowery Branch High School commencement ceremony in May at Free Chapel. The graduation rate at Flowery Branch increased to 93 percent in 2015, according to numbers released today by the Georgia Department of Education.

A higher rate of local students finished high school and earned their diplomas this year than last, according to numbers released Monday by the Georgia Department of Education.

Among traditional local schools, Flowery Branch High School had the biggest increase, from 84.1 to 93 percent. North Hall High School had the highest graduation rate at 97.1 percent.

Flowery Branch, West Hall, Chestatee and Gainesville high schools all increased by 8 percentage points or more.

Increased graduation rates are a focus of Gainesville City Schools’ strategic plan, according to a release from the district. The district’s rate increased from 68.7 percent in 2014 to 79.5 percent.

Last year, Gainesville teachers and counselors provided opportunities through the year for students to reach graduation, and they worked through the summer to ensure students could complete unfinished coursework, according to the district.

“Improving graduation rates takes a focused effort from so many people,” said Gainesville Principal Tom Smith. “The improved graduation rate for GHS is a result of a focused effort of the staff to support all students. Additionally, our students have worked very hard to put themselves in a position to graduate on time.”

Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said in 2006, the district graduation rate was 67.5 percent. The 2015 rate for the district was 83.7.

“Through the creation of 25 charter schools and programs of choice, our teachers and leaders have worked tirelessly to support our students in finding their unique gifts and passions,” Schofield said in an email. “Our work is not done. We want to ensure all of our students are life/college/job ready when they leave our district.”

Local nontraditional schools, which serve students who aren’t excelling in the traditional setting, include Lanier Charter Career Academy in Hall County and The Academy at Wood’s Mill in Gainesville.

The graduation rate at Lanier increased to 29.2 from 12.4. That represents 64 students graduating out of a class of 219 in 2015.

Lanier Principal Cindy Blakley said the elimination of the graduation test requirement was likely the biggest factor in the school’s more than doubled rate.

“Those who had previously been students with us and had finished all their high school credits, but couldn’t finish even one of the five graduation tests, could not receive their diploma,” Blakley said. “Through House Bill 91, they were able to do that, and so we had a large number of students benefit from this.”

Meanwhile, the graduation rate at Wood’s Mill decreased slightly, to 18 from 18.1. That represents nine students graduating out of a class of 50. School officials said they were still pleased to see the rate remained about steady.

Statewide, the 2015 high school graduation rate rose to 78.8 percent from 72.5 percent in 2014.

“The 2015 graduation rate shows that our schools are working harder and smarter than ever to ensure our students receive their diploma, something that affords them the opportunity to move on to postsecondary education, the military, or directly into a meaningful career,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said in a news release. “I expect we will continue to see the graduation rate increase as we provide more personalized graduation plans with multiple paths to graduation.”