After increasing its graduation rate from 2014 to 2015, Richmond County public schools took a step back in 2016.
According to the Georgia Department of Education, 76.7 percent of Richmond County students graduated in 2016, down from 77.6 percent in 2015. In Columbia County, 89 percent of students graduated, up from 87.6 percent a year ago.
Statewide, Georgia graduated 79.2 percent of its students last year.
"We're very proud of this accomplishment, but we still have work to do," Columbia County Superintendent Sandra Carraway said. "Even though we're one of the highest ranked counties in Georgia, 10 percent of our students still aren't graduating. We have to change that."
In Richmond County, Westside High School (83.4 percent) and the Academy of Richmond County (84.5 percent) posted their highest graduation rates since 2004. Davidson Magnet School and A.R. Johnson Health Science & Engineering Magnet School had a 100 percent graduation rate.
Lucy C. Laney (86.7) and Cross Creek (80.4) surpassed the state average but saw decreases from the previous school year. Richmond County Technical Career Magnet School (97.9) eclipsed the state average with its first graduating class.
"These results demonstrate that we are moving in the right direction," Richmond County Superintendent Angela Pringle said.
However, six Richmond County schools ranked below the state average – T.W. Josey (67.1 percent), Glenn Hills (73.3), Hephzibah (76.4), Butler (65.6), the Alternative Education Center at Lamar (57.1) and the Performance Learning Center (13.2).
The decline did not go unnoticed by Dr. Wayne Frazier, who is running for the District 4 Board of Education seat in the Nov. 8 election.
"As long as leadership continues to be proud of these numbers, we're never going to get where we need to be," Frazier said. "The leadership of the board is our main problem – not our students, parents, teachers or principals. We have to push ourselves to be better than this. We can't be satisfied when we're lagging behind most of the country."
When asked about the graduation rate, Richmond County school board president Helen Minchew said, "(I'm) proud of the hard work at all of our high schools."
Brian Green, who is running for the District 1 seat, praised his alma mater, Laney High School, which ranked highest among non-magnet schools in Richmond County.
"We had a few shining stars," Green said. "But let's not be proud of 76.7 percent. We have to strive to be better. We have to."
Marion Barnes, the school board vice president who is being challenged by Green on Nov. 8, said: "We are inspired by our continued growth and improvement. Our educators and children deserve credit for their hard work and dedication to continuous improvement."
In Columbia County, all five high schools ranked above the state average, led by Greenbrier (96.9) and followed by Harlem (89.8), Lakeside (89.4), Evans (85.9) and Grovetown (85.4 percent).
Since 2012, when Columbia County had a 73.8 percent graduation rate, the numbers have increased each year.
"We've come a long way," Carraway said. "There's no question about that. But still, we can't be satisfied with where we're at – we have to keep improving."