In a 10-year study, Phenix City Schools exceeded the expectations for both the 2006 graduation rate and the change in the rate from 1996 to 2006. The results from the study were released and published this month in Education Week’s Diplomas Count publication.
For the study, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center identified school districts matching the profile of the nation’s largest urban systems and singled out those with the highest graduation rates and strongest growth.
“It’s a positive reflection on the state when it shows that a system in Alabama is recognized in particularly when such a broad range or schools are used,” said Michael Sibley, spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Education.
According the study, graduation rates in southern states have been traditionally below 60 percent for Alabama and Georgia from 1996 until 2006, the years used in the study.
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Phenix City’s actual graduation rate was 69 percent in 2006. However, the study predicted in 1996 that the rate would be 56 percent. Thus, the system exceeded the study’s expectation by 13 percent.
Alabama’s overall rate was 57 percent in 1996 and rose to 61.4 percent in 2006. Georgia’s was 55.1 percent in 1996 and rose to 55.9 percent in 2006. While the U.S. average in 1996 was 64.4 percent and in 69.2 percent in 2006.
“The graduation rate in Alabama is one of our top priorities,” Sibley said. “The things that Phenix City is modeling is indicative of what we want to see in more school systems across the state.”
However, Sibley pointed out that the method used to calculate graduation rate is not the formula used by the state of Alabama, which lists its graduation rate at 81.6 percent.
The study based its rate on the number of 9th graders enrolled in the system and the number that graduated four years later. Alabama uses the same timeframe, but incorporates students who leave the system and those who continue to enroll in school until they complete their education.
Phenix City School Superintendent Larry DiChiara said he was please to see a national publication take note of what’s going on in Phenix City.
“We’re trying to knock down some of the barriers that stood in the way of getting more students to graduate,” DiChiara said, adding that the system utilizes graduation coaches, and programs that allow students to catch up and recover credits though evening and summer programs.
“We have just a multitude of alternative approaches to help kids stay in school and graduate. That ranges from a whole menu of tutorial services to other programs,” DiChiara said. “We have a teen-pregnancy program to keep those students in school. We have a dropout recover program. We also have credit recovery computer-based instruction. In addition, we have high hopes money to help people remediate the graduation exam.”
However, he said it’s the teachers and school administrators who deserve the credit. “We can put all the programs in the world in place, but if you don’t have fantastic board members, administrators, counselors and teachers, kids are going to fall by the wayside,” DiChiara said. “I’ve never seen a school system that bends over so far backwards to keep their kids in schools.”
In fact, DiChiara said there are more than 550 students enrolled in summer school retaking courses or getting ahead.
He also believes the new graduation age of 17 will keep more students in school longer and encourage more to get their diploma. In the top 10 of schools who exceeded the graduation rate expectations from 1996 to 2006, Phenix City was not the only East Alabama school system recognized. Opelika, Ala., ranked 10th. They were the only two systems from the state. No Georgia or Mississippi schools were recognized.