The Muscogee County School District improved its high school graduation rate by 5.3 percent this year and continued to surpass the state average, according to data released Wednesday.
Muscogee's graduation rate jumped from 67.5 percent in 2012 to 72.8 percent in 2013, while the state increased from 69.7 to 71.5.
The district's improvement follows a slight decline in its graduation rate the previous year, 0.7 percent, from 68.2 in 2011. That's when Georgia changed how it measures the graduation rate to comply with a tougher U.S. Department of Education requirement. The rate had been including students who took more than four years to graduate. This is the third year the measurement, called the four-year cohort rate, is based on when a student becomes a freshman in high school.
Muscogee's neighboring counties, Harris and Chattahoochee, with one high school each also have better graduation rates this year. Harris inched up from 86.3 to 87.3, and Chattahoochee zoomed from 60.2 to 69.2.
Kendrick made the largest gain among Muscogee's nine high schools, 12.9 percent, from 47.8 to 60.7. Kendrick principal Alonzo James, in his third year leading the school, listed group lessons, increased learning time, SAT and ACT test preparation courses, credit recovery and planning for college and careers as the most successful ways his faculty has helped its students.
"We provide continuous progress monitoring for all students and use different strategies to engage those students who need additional remediation support to master subject material and provide additional learning opportunities for those students who excel and have mastered the subject material," James said in a news release.
Hardaway (11.5 percent) and Jordan (10.4) also notched double-figure gains. Muscogee superintendent David Lewis, hired in July, vowed to use those schools as models for the others.
"We commend the teachers, principals, students and staff who work endlessly to gain significant improvement in this important metric of school and system success," Lewis said in the release. "We will analyze the strategies they employed that led to their marked improvement and determine if these best practices could be implemented to help other high schools in our district."
Carver (1.8 percent), Northside (1.8) and Columbus (0.2) made progress as well.
Spencer suffered the district's largest drop (minus-5.7 percent). Shaw (minus-0.8) and Early College (minus-0.3) also declined.
"While we are pleased with the marked improvement in several schools and the overall upward trend that exceeds the state average," Lewis said, "there is still much work to be done, and we must continue to push for this rate to continue to increase over time."
Muscogee's graduation rate is ranked third in its eight-county comparison group of districts with similar size and poverty levels:
Houston 78.8 percent, Hall 77.5, Muscogee 72.8, Newton 71.3, Douglas 70.5, Chatham 69.8, Bibb 61.1 and Richmond 58.3.
Harris doesn't have such a comparison group, but interim superintendent Jeff Branham noted the system's graduation rate leads its Regional Education Service Agency, which includes the counties of Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Clay, Crisp, Dooly, Macon, Marion, Quitman, Randolph, Schley, Stewart, Sumter, Talbot, Taylor and Webster.
"We have been committed to working collaboratively with our Performance Learning Center and our Educational Opportunity Center and Harris County High School to improve our graduation rate," Branham said. "We are not satisfied until we reach our goal of 100 percent for all students."
Chattahoochee superintendent Jimmy Martin wasn't reached for comment.
Here are the high school graduation rates for local Georgia schools during the past three years, ranked in order of their 2013 rate:
School 2011 2012 2013
Columbus 97.5 96.2 96.4
Early College 95.7 92.0 91.7
Northside 86.6 86.2 88.0
Harris Co. 79.7 86.3 87.3
Hardaway 75.8 64.8 76.3
Shaw 65.1 72.1 71.3
Chatt. Co. 71.2 60.2 69.2
Carver 63.8 59.5 61.3
Kendrick 48.9 47.8 60.7
Jordan 43.6 45.7 56.1
Spencer 61.7 60.3 54.6