Last Friday, Governor Sonny Perdue made an announcement of "dramatic" proportions, but it was only half as dramatic as that of Thomson High School Principal Rudy Falana.
Gov. Perdue announced a large decrease in the number of high school dropouts for the 2006-07 school year and an increase in the graduation rate.
"Today I am proud to announce that, in just their first year of service, graduation coaches were able to save 2,272 students from dropping out of high school," the Governor said in his press release. "We want our high school students to have the best possible shot at life and that starts with a solid education and a high school diploma."
While the graduation rate across the state has increased nine points to 72.3 percent in the last four years, Thomson's graduation rate increased more than twice that much in the same amount of time. The Thomson High School graduation rate increased 21.8 points to 74.4 percent since the 2002-03 school year.
"As Mr. Falana and I have reviewed the THS figures, we have found that the trends of the state mirror those of THS," said Lynn Cato, the assistant principal of curriculum and instruction at Thomson High School. "Since 2002-03, the graduation rate has steadily risen at THS."
In his announcement, Gov. Perdue further challenged schools by setting a goal of 80 percent graduation rates by 2010. In a previous school board meeting, McDuffie County School Superintendent Mark Petersen said unless the graduation rate is 100 percent, there's always room for improvement. Ms. Cato said the graduation rate does not include students who have received special education diplomas, or who graduated after four years and one summer.
"So the actual completion rate is higher," she said.
In his press release, Governor Perdue attributed the success to his implementation of graduation coaches in the high schools. There are currently 336 coaches working in Georgia high schools.
The graduation coach's primary responsibility is to identify and work with at-risk students and help them get back on the graduation track before they drop out. The coach also identifies, recruits and engages concerned organizations and agencies to serve in a variety of support roles in their respective communities.
According to Barry O'Neill, the assistant superintendent in curriculum and instruction, McDuffie County has three graduation coaches - one working full-time at the high school, one working full-time at the middle school and one working part time at the alternative school.
But McDuffie County school officials didn't stop there.
"Along with the addition of the graduation coach, we attribute the steady increase to higher expectations, a more rigorous curriculum, the gradual elimination of lower level courses and the implementation of many interventions," Ms. Cato said.
The assistant principal said these interventions include extended semester and evening school, early morning classes and a partnership with CrossRoads Learning Center, using data to drive instruction and the Renaissance Program.
Thomson High School Graduation Rate
Black Students: 42.8%
White Students: 63.1%
Students with Disabilities: 20%
Economically Disadvantaged: 35.6%
All Students: 52.6%
Black Students; 62.8%
White Students: 84.8%
Students with Disabilities: 25.9%
Economically Disadvantaged: 63.1%
All Students: 74.4%