For the second year in a row, Blount County schools reported an 83-percent graduation rate, which is above the state average of 80 percent, according to Blount County secondary curriculum coordinator Stoney Beavers.
“I think we are at a great place compared to the rest of the state and where we have been in the past,” Beavers said. “Of course, I would love if we had 100 percent graduate, but I believe, in the future, it is a realistic goal to strive for a 90-percent rate at every school.”
Many factors are paving the way for that to happen, according to Beavers, including the discontinuation of the graduation exam and the adoption of state Supt. Dr. Tommy Bice’s Plan 2020.
According to the Alabama Department of Education website, “Each of the four priorities (learners, support systems, schools/systems, and professionals) contain objectives, strategies, and targets/ indicators designed to focus all available resources, completely address all critical aspects needed for each component, and make significant measurable progress by the year 2020.”
One goal of Plan 2020 was having a state graduation rate of 80 percent by the year 2016, which was achieved in 2013, according to Beavers.
Beavers says one big focus is not just to have a higher graduation rate, but that those students who are graduating are leaving college- and career- ready.
“We want the diploma to be worth something,” Beavers said. “Our goal is for there to be prepared graduates. Each school continues to show progress, and we are helping more students get a diploma, therefore, leading to a more successful life.”
Many programs have been implemented to aide in keeping students in school whether that be with the Plan 2020 or just for Blount County.
According to Beavers, the system:
•added a part-time graduation coach at Susan Moore High School. Jodie Jacobs, school improvement specialist for Blount County, serves as the parttime graduation coach for the rest of the county schools.
•implemented the state’s Graduation Tracking System for early detection of potential dropouts.
•conducted school-wide assemblies on the importance of staying in school and the harmful effects of dropping out.
•organized a county-wide symposium with the Dave Mathew’s Center for Civic Life on addressing the dropout issue.
•planned school visits by the Choice Bus, directly addressing the negative effects of dropping out with students.
•used an ACCESS facilitator at each high school to increase course offerings and credit recovery opportunities for all students.
•trained school employees to identify potential dropouts, provide support and intervention, and properly counsel students and parents on the consequences of dropping out.
•provided county-wide credit recovery to allow students to stay on track to graduate.
•trained school staff on accurately coding dropout reasons and following up on dropouts.
•created a Career Academy at the Blount County Career Technical Center which helps non-traditional students complete credits while gaining career skills.
•applied and received a State Department grant to implement the Jobs for Alabama Graduates ( JAG) Program for Career Academy and Career Tech students.
•created student and mentor programs at most schools.
•invited Big Brothers/ Big Sisters to offer mentor programs in schools.
•collected and utilized data from sources such as the High School Survey of Student Engagement to research ways to increase student engagement in schools.
Teachers and administrators at all county schools are continuing to improve on doing whatever it takes to help students be successful, according to Beavers.
“There’s a lot more effort in trying to keep some kids from falling through the cracks, but there is a lot more we still have planned,” he said.
One major factor was the exit interview, mandated by Plan 2020, which requires students who want to drop out to meet with school personnel to discuss what will happen. Beavers says he wants to continue in the future to educate students and parents regarding the negative effects of leaving high school without a diploma.
“The requirements of the new GED must be fully understood,” Beavers said. “When it was time to update the test they did so and made it a lot more challenging. Staying in school is now the easier option. Additionally, dropouts must realize that they also risk losing their drivers’s license if they are not in enrollment compliance.”