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Jackson County takes 7 steps to improve high school graduation rate
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Jackson County school officials created a list of seven strategies to help the school system increase its graduation rate.

  • Implement Teachers as Advisors Framework in grades 6-12
  • Research and develop an internal mentoring program within each school in grades 6-12
  • Establish a leadership committee to increase the graduation rate
  • Provide professional learning for improved classroom engagement based on analysis of the classroom environment
  • Analyze data to implement appropriate acceleration and intervention strategies based on individual student needs
  • Train all teachers in Response to Intervention Framework
  • Increase student participation in timely credit recovery options

JEFFERSON — Joyce Hawkins thinks she has the best job.

She spends her days encouraging students in ninth through 12th grades at Jackson County Comprehensive High School to work toward graduating and moving on to the next phase in their lives.

"We talk to them about what they want to do after high school," Hawkins said. "That’s a big part of my heartbeat. I want to make sure they’re prepared for whatever they want to do in life."

Whether it’s recovering credits they didn’t complete, dealing with attendance issues or giving words of encouragement, Hawkins works to keep students firmly planted in class and on the path toward graduation.

"We try to have a support system for each student," she said. "I’m here to be a contact person for that student."

Hawkins’ job as graduation coach is just one facet of a seven-strategy plan Jackson County school officials implemented in hopes of increasing the graduation rate countywide.

At a 2008 summer retreat, the county board of education and other administrators decided that improving the graduation rate was a top priority for this year.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools also recommended this be at the top of the school system’s to-do list, so administrators came up with seven strategies to be implemented this school year and in years to come to achieve this goal.

Individual attention helps students achieve

The first strategy on the list asks schools to implement the Teachers as Advisors Framework in sixth through 12th grades. The framework provides schools with a structure for implementing programs to explore career options and keep students on an academic path headed toward post-secondary education, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

The state outlines specific objectives for sixth through 12th grade that expose students to economic and employment trends, skills and character traits found desirable in the workplace and other information to allow students to take responsibility for getting the most out of their education. Students have a counselor, graduation coach or other mentor to keep them focused and motivated, said April Howard, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

"The goal is that each student has someone who’s not necessarily evaluating them and giving them a grade, but a person who mentors them a little bit, looks at what their grades are," Howard said.

This emphasis on individual attention is reflected in many of the other strategies for improving graduation rate — implementing a mentor program for students, training teachers to intervene when a student starts to fall behind and providing students with options to recover credits they need to graduate, Howard said.

This is where Hawkins comes in. She works with the counselors and faculty to be an advocate for students and to show them how to get back on track when their grades slip.

"It’s definitely a joint effort, with the students, faculty and administrators," she said. "Our main goal is that the students are successful and can graduate on time and with their class."

Graduation rate and its impacts

The school system’s graduation rate reflects the number of students who master the material necessary to earn a diploma and move on to either post-secondary education or the work force, but it also affects the school system’s Adequate Yearly Progress standing.

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is the "annual measure of student participation and achievement of statewide assessments and other academic indicators," according to the state Department of Education. This measure was introduced with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and it holds each school accountable for its students’ academic performance.

All of Jackson County’s 13 schools except Jackson County Comprehensive High School made AYP in 2008. The high school fell short of AYP because of its graduation rate. Since the high school didn’t make AYP, the county as a whole didn’t make AYP.

Howard said the school system hopes to increase graduation rate from 67.4 percent in the 2007-2008 school year to at least 74.1 percent in 2009. That would keep Jackson County schools on track with a plan to get the graduation rate up to 75 percent by 2009 and move up incrementally until reaching 100 percent in 2014.

The district also has established a leadership committee to examine academic progress year-round as part of these efforts. The committee is composed of school principals, graduation coaches, some high school counselors and several support staff from the central office who meet at least quarterly to monitor academic performance, Howard said. This information is also reviewed monthly at principals’ meetings to ensure school officials are consistently eyeing students’ achievement.

"We have instructional conversations every month," Howard said. "We look at how many kids have failed, withdrawn from classes, who is exceeding standards."