Columbia Co. schools brace for lower graduation rates

By: Katie Beasley Email
By: Katie Beasley Email

News 12 First at Five / Thursday, April 12, 2012

EVANS, Ga. -- Senior high school students all around the area are counting down the days until graduation next month, but graduation rates around Georgia are dropping and it's not because of a change in your child's education.

The state has adopted a new way to calculate the number of caps and gowns, and now schools are doing their own math.

Anita Davis is the graduation coach at Lakeside High School.

"Generally, my day is filled with appointments with students every 15 minutes," Davis said.

Her goal is to make sure students walk across the stage and Columbia County is one of the only school districts in the area that have not cut graduation coaches from the budget.

"I think the graduation coaches truly, truly understand and appreciate how important and meaningful a high school diploma is," Davis said.

"Here in Columbia County, we've been very fortunate to have the support of our board members to keep those graduation coaches in place to make sure our students stay on track for graduation," added Lakeside Principal Steve Rhodes.

But new rules to how that graduation rate is calculated may mean changes are on the way.

"We're going to have to come up with some new things to do and some new ways, quite frankly, to market education to parents and to kids," Davis said.

Before, the "leaver rate" counted students graduating in four years and in five years as a part of the total, but the new method only counts four years and adds and subtracts transfer students.

"Last year we were very happy here at Lakeside to have the highest graduation rate we've ever had at the school at 90 percent. The new change drops us down to 79," Rhodes said.

Davis calls this an "unfortunate stigma."

"Because that's what we end up with is a stigma that you didn't graduate 90 percent in four years," she said.

The new math will mean Georgia can be compared to other states around the country.

"Even though initially it seems we're not doing as well, we're just looking at things differently so you want to compare apples to apples," Rhodes said.

Columbia County has even created a fifth-year graduation program for students.

"We're going to do the things we've always done, but we're also going to do some aggressive thinking in terms of changing some things," Davis said.

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