With five months left before graduation day, Richmond County seniors at two high schools have a high standard to live up to.
After receiving more than $2 million in a School Improvement Grant since 2010 – federal money used to turn around failing schools – Glenn Hills and T.W. Josey high schools have steadily led more students to finish school.
Out of the 40 Georgia schools that receive the grants, Josey and Glenn Hills are two of seven schools that pushed their graduation rates to 80 percent or better. At 86.1 percent, Glenn Hills has the highest graduation rate of any school in Georgia that was a grant recipient.
In 2009, Josey finished with 62.6 percent and Glenn Hills had a 67.3 percent graduation rate.
“When you’re talking about raising the graduation rate, there’s a lot more that’s encompassed than just that,” said Sylvia Hooker, the Georgia Department of Education deputy superintendent for school turnaround. “It’s creating a culture of high expectations.”
Using grant money, the schools were able to invest in more training for teachers and, in some cases, extend instructional time, which administrators say prevented more students from dropping out.
Lucy C. Laney High School is also a grant recipient, although it was not one of the seven grant schools that achieved an 80 percent graduation rate. In 2011, Laney had a 71.4 graduation rate, which was still a significant increase from its 30.9 percent graduation rate in 2008.
Josey Principal Ronald Wiggins said helping more students earn diplomas had a lot to do with being more engaged in their lives and their education.
“I don’t think that students at Josey ever didn’t want to graduate, I don’t think that was the perception … I think a lot of our students didn’t know how to graduate,” he said.
Many students didn’t have support systems at home that encouraged finishing high school or had parents who never graduated, Wiggins said.
Counselors taught students about planning graduation early, and a family facilitator met with parents and community members to get them engaged.
Wiggins said being one of seven of Georgia’s 40 School Improvement Grant schools to meet the 80 percent graduation mark is encouraging, but it’s just the beginning of reform at his school.
“I’m still looking for a total picture,” Wiggins said. “(Graduation is) just one component of the school.”