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Graduation rates up in local schools
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Hall County graduation rates increased in 2012 from 2011.

In fact, rates increased more than 2 percentage points across Georgia, to 69.7 percent from 67.4 percent, according to information released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.

The jump in Hall County Schools, to 74.4 percent from 72.7 percent, mirrors the state’s improvements.

“I’m very proud right now,” said Joe Gheesling, principal of North Hall High School, which had the highest graduation rate in the county at 95.2 percent, exceeding the school’s original goal of 92 percent. “I attribute it to a lot of hard work on the part of our really good teachers and staff members, as well as our students,” he said.

Overall, Hall County schools graduated 74.4 percent of seniors in four years in 2012, up from 72.7 percent in 2011. Chestatee High School had the second-highest graduation rate, with 89.9 percent of graduating seniors.

West Hall High School had 84.2 percent, Flowery Branch had 88.7 percent graduates, East Hall had 75.1 percent and Johnson High School had 82.5 percent in the 2012 graduating class.

Lanier Career Academy was the lowest of the county school system, with 18.2 percent of graduates, or 49 out of 269 in the senior class. It’s a slight decrease from 2011, which was at 19.7 percent.

“We do serve students who are off track for graduation,” said Cindy Blakley, principal of the nontraditional high school. “So, because of what our goal is, to take students who are more than a year behind, we have some students that are three years behind, some students that are 17 or older, and so our task is to get them graduated or with a GED as quickly as we can.”

Blakley said that the students may graduate eventually, but would not be included in the accountability profile as it would be outside of the four-year scope.

“The rate is really just a number,” Blakley said. “Our No. 1 goal, quite honestly, is to just help kids graduate.”

She said that, at the beginning of the school year, students are walked through what they need to do in order to graduate.

“They come here knowing they’re off track,” she said.

Terry Sapp, high school coordinator with Hall County Schools, attributes the rise in rates to more of an effort in monitoring student performance.

“When we find that a student is in danger, we immediately step in with all of the appropriate academic support to assist the student in earning the credit,” she explained, citing extra support as anything from extra reviewing spent with teachers to tutoring outside of the classroom.

In Gainesville schools, the nontraditional Wood’s Mill High School had 26.9 percent graduating and Gainesville High had 76.4. The overall 2012 graduation rate in Gainesville schools was 66.5 percent, up from 58.4 percent in 2011.

“This is the four-year completion rate,” said Merrianne Dyer, superintendent of Gainesville City Schools, about the numbers. “A much higher percentage of our students graduate. They just take longer than four years to do so.”

Dyer said that, in Gainesville, students had previously been expected to earn 28 units to graduate, as opposed to the state’s requirement of 23 credits.

“When that policy was made, it was made to increase rigor, and encourage students to take Advanced Placement courses.”

The policy had been in place since the mid-1990s, according to Dyer, and had only been changed to the now-required 24 units two years ago.

Jamey Moore, director of curriculum and instruction for Gainesville schools, also pointed out that the transition to End of Course Tests from the Georgia High School Graduation Tests has helped.

“The EOCT happen directly after the course is taught,” he said, explaining how the material is fresher in students’ minds as opposed to taking the graduation tests near the end of their senior year. He also said that Gainesville High School has a “Teachers as Advisors” program, with teachers also empowered to advise students during their high school careers.

“Of course, we’re pleased with it, but we do want people to realize this is a four-year completion out of our graduation class last year,” Dyer said. “Very few students did not actually graduate.”

Moore also pointed out that there is a high mobility rate between schools in Hall County.

“We can teach a student for three years, and they can transfer their senior year, and that credit for graduation travels with the student,” he explained. “So the school a student graduates with is not necessarily the school they started with, or spent the majority of their career with.”

According to the state department’s news release, the rate of students across the state receiving high school diplomas has risen by 11 percentage points since 2009. The rates are determined by calculating the number of students who graduate from school within four years, and include adjustments for student transfers. This is the second year this particular formula, known as the adjusted cohort rate, has been used in calculating the graduation rate.

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