Grad rates up at Central-Phenix City, Russell County high schools

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 15, 2014 

The Russell County High School Class of 199 seniors walk onto the football field for graduation Thursday evening in May, 2013.

JOE PAULL — jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com

Central-Phenix City and Russell County high schools have boosted their graduation rates by 10 percentage points during the past two years, according to data the Alabama State Department of Education released Wednesday.

Central's graduation rate went from 67 percent in 2011 to 70 percent in 2012 and 77 percent in 2013. Russell County dropped from 62 percent in 2011 to 58 percent in 2012 but rebounded even higher, to 72 percent, in 2013.

Smiths Station High recovered the 2 points it lost the previous year and is back to its graduation rate from two years ago, 86 percent, which is 6 points above the state average.

The state department released Alabama's overall graduation rate Tuesday but didn't release local data until Wednesday.

Central and Russell County continue to be below the state average, but they have narrowed the gap. While the state average has increased from 72 percent in 2011 to 75 percent in 2012 and 80 percent in 2013, Central is 3 points below the state average now instead of 5 points the past two years, and Russell County is within 8 points of the state average now instead of 10 points two years ago.

Central principal Tommy Vickers listed several factors as powering his school's improved graduation rate:

• Better documentation and record-keeping.

• An after-school program allows students to recover failed credits during the school year, rather than waiting until summer school.

• That same credit-recovery program is offered to seniors also during the school day.

• Graduation coach Jason Sasser, who is a certified teacher, monitors students to help them stay or get on track.

• Senior counselor Jenny Kite meets with rising seniors and their parents during the summer to create an individual graduation plan.

• Coach Ron Nelson monitors athletes' transcripts, grade-point averages, course requirements and credits.

• Since the law was enacted in 2009, Central has used the state-mandated exit interview for students wanting to drop out to sometimes convince them to stay in school. "Many times issues are uncovered that may have been the root cause for that decision," Vickers said. "… Anyone who dropped out of school would lose their driver's license. We bring that up in the meeting, and that can be a deterrent."

Russell County principal Ken Britford wasn't reached for comment.

As for Smiths Station, principal Jason Yohn said the key to his school's graduation rate staying above the state average is trying to meet the needs of each student.

"I'd like to think we're doing a good job of keeping them interested in school," Yohn said. "We have something for everyone, whether it's art or theater or band or athletics, and we have a caring faculty and school board and system that supports that."

ALABAMA HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION RATES

The following figures denote the percentage of high school students who graduated within four years:

2011=2012=2013

Central-Phenix City 67=70=77

Russell County 62=58=72

Smiths Station 86=84=86

State average 72=75=80

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