The graduation rate in Douglas County fell below the state average by 1 percentage point, according to statistics released Wednesday by the Georgia Department of Education.
The Douglas County School System had a four-year graduation rate of 70.5 percent in 2013, while Georgia’s average as a whole was 71.5 percent in 2013. In 2012, Douglas County's 72.29 percent graduation rate topped the state's 69.7 percent by 2.59 percentage points.
“I tend not to overreact when scores go up or down,” said Douglas County Schools Superintendent Dr. Gordon Pritz, who pointed out when Inner Harbour isn't included the district graduation rate is 71.06 percent. “Every class stands on its own, depending on the achievement of students in a particular class. As we think about the graduation rate it is important to also note that students in this class earned $17,423,824 in scholarships to colleges, universities and technical colleges.”
Associate Superintendent for Student Achievement and Leadership Pam Nail added, “We will be working with principals and other administrators as well as counselors to look at the data and possible root causes responsible for the dip and to determine strategies as we move forward.”
Alexander High School continues to turn out the highest percentage of graduates locally, increasing its graduation rate from 81.28 percent in 2012 to 83.1 percent in 2013. That's over 11 percent better than the state average.
Alexander High School Principal Nathan Hand said one key to his school’s success is staying on top of the new, post-No Child Left Behind cohort formula the state now uses to compute the graduation rate.
The rate is calculated by dividing the number of students who graduated in 2013 by the number of students who started at a school as freshmen four years earlier. Adjustments are allowed for things like students who relocate to another school or district.
“We attribute the increase in our graduation rate to a culminating effort of the teachers, counselors, graduation coach and records clerk,” Hand said. “Our teachers have done an exceptional job of building relationships with the students that might otherwise get lost in the shadows. If a student is wavering, but has a trusting relationship with his or her teachers, they stand a greater chance of sticking it out and graduating from high school.”
Hand singled out Alexander’s records clerk, Kathy Robertson, who he said “works tirelessly” to make sure students are accounted for when they leave Alexander so they’re not counted against the school’s graduation rate.
Chapel Hill High School was the other local school with a graduation rate above the state average, with 75.4 percent of students graduating in four years, an increase of 4/10 of a percentage point over 2012.
New Manchester High School saw a slight drop from 72.15 percent in 2012 to 71.3 percent in 2013, putting the three-year-old school right at the state average.
New Manchester High School Principal Connie Craft said the county has a “very transient population," making it harder to keep up with students. Craft echoed Hand’s point about staying on top of students who start at the school in ninth and 10th grades, later transfer to another school without being accounted for and ultimately drag down the school’s graduation rate.
“We certainly want to improve on this rate,” said Craft. “That would be our goal. We want more students to get a diploma in four years. Absolutely. What it does is it sets our goals. We look at the graduation rate and we look at the students who are involved and what their needs are academically and what we need to do to support that.”
Douglas County High School saw a 5.51 percentage point decrease from 71 percent in 2012 to 65.2 in 2013.
Lithia Springs High School also had a modest decline, dropping 3.69 percentage points from 65.49 percent in 2012 to 61.8 percent in 2013.
Lithia Springs Principal Dr. Garrick Askew pointed out that the cohort formula has hurt his school’s graduation rate. He said Lithia has been unable to locate 30 of the 435 students who started ninth grade there in 2009, all of whom counted against the school’s 2013 graduation rate.
And while it doesn’t show up in the numbers that count issued by the state, he said 276 of the 357 (77 percent) students that began the 2012-2013 school year as seniors at Lithia got their diplomas last June.
Moving forward, Askew said tracking mechanisms and special programs are in place for credit recovery “to help students who are two or more years behind graduate in the most efficient time possible.”
Pritz said they will not stop working to improve.
“While we were pleased to see our graduation rate improve steadily the last several years, we are disappointed in this dip. We are always looking for ways to improve and our goal is to have every student graduate in four years from high school,” said Pritz.