Sharon Hill plans to tackle Laney High School's dropout rate one student at a time.
The Richmond County school board on Tuesday unanimously approved Hill's hiring as the school's dropout prevention specialist.
Hill's salary will be paid from the $1 million federal School Improvement Grant the school was awarded this year. Josey and Glenn Hills high schools were awarded similar grants.
In Laney's application for the grant, the school budgeted $60,000 for the position's salary and $15,000 for benefits.
Hill, 44, said after the meeting that she plans to focus on each student individually, not as a number.
"I plan to try to establish a rapport with the students who are identified as being at risk," she said. "I enjoy working with young people. ... I want to know how they work -- what shows they like, the music, the culture -- familiarize myself with it."
That way, Hill said, she can talk with students on their level, in terms they can relate to, and explain to them why it's important they stay in school. She also wants to reach out to their families and help them deal with the challenging out-of-school circumstances that can sometimes cause students to leave school.
She worked as a prison counselor for a few years and made the transition into education.
"I wanted to see them on this side of the criminal justice system, so I decided to move to the education system to be able to help students reach their goals and give them a vision and passion for life," she said.
Hill's job will not be easy. Laney's dropout rate was 8.2 percent in 2008-09, well above the state's 3.6 percent rate. Laney also has a low graduation rate: 56.6 percent in 2008-09, far below the state average of 78.9 percent.
"I'm not saying it's not going to be difficult," she said. "It is difficult, but it's not impossible."
Dr. Carol Rountree, the school system's executive director of student services, said after the meeting that Hill's ability to individually focus on at-risk students will be the key to her success.
"She is a very caring adult who is going to move beyond paper and really deal with the person," Rountree said. "We really do want a person whose background helps her identify with students, and that describes Ms. Hill."