The graduation rate of Thomson High School has steadily climbed 28 percent in the past six years.
Although the graduation rate increased across the state this year according to Georgia Department of Education reports, Thomson High School's rate exceeds the state rate and almost all of McDuffie County's neighboring counties.
"I'm most proud of our graduation rate," said Principal Rudy Falana, who became principal of THS in 2005. "To come up from 56 percent in 2004 to 85 percent now is something we've worked hard to do and I'm proud of that. It's a credit to our staff and the entire district."
Not only is the amount of the increase remarkable, but it occurred with all groups of students -- black, white, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged. And all the while, the bottom line requirements for making Annual Yearly Progress and graduation have increased, also.
"The graduation rate certainly has been one of our priorities academically in McDuffie County," School Superintendent Jim LeBrun said.
"It takes time to drive that upward. It's everyone's responsibility from pre-k on through high school. We all take ownership of that responsibility. ... And as you go up that continuum of improvement, it gets harder and harder to make additional gains."
The significant gains are attributed to several factors, according to Lynn Cato, who became assistant principal of curriculum and instruction also in 2005:
increasing the rigor and expectations for all students by eliminating lower level classes, but holding students accountable
a pervasive "failure is not an option" attitude among the pre-K through 12th grade faculty, leading to a more refined focus on mastery of standards and interventions for struggling pupils
co-teaching classes in grades 1-12, allowing students to remain in the regular education setting but still receive support for special needs
the implementation of evening school credit recovery, a seamless alternative education program, and extended semester credit repair options which allow students to regain their on-track status for graduation
establishing a disciplined school climate that focuses on academics while celebrating excellence in co- and extra-curricular activities
use of diagnostic data from the Georgia High School Predictor Tests, PSAT, Supplemental Writing Test, as well as other standardized tests to identify students in need of additional academic support
use of the Georgia Performance Standards frameworks for instruction and the Georgia Department of Education resources for test preparation
continuous, job-embedded professional learning through collaborative teacher planning
support of the district office in providing all requested resources for curricular support and professional learning and in allowing the school to "think outside of the box" for solutions
a commitment to building a firm foundation in reading in grades pre-K through 12th grade
support from outside agencies (such as the Partners for Success, Department of Labor's Vocational Rehabilitation, Workforce Development, Chamber of Commerce, Watson-Brown Foundation) and individuals (such as the college advisor, school social workers and psychologists)
joint and dual enrollment opportunities through the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia, allowing students to earn both high school and post-secondary credit.
"I'm proud of all the teachers, counselors and administrators," Mr. LeBrun said. "I'm very pleased with the attitude and frame of mind at Thomson High School. ... Those teachers and those administrators are willing to do things differently. They're willing to think outside of the box and do whatever it takes to help those kids succeed. It is so awesome to be part of that."