07/23/08 — Graduation rates up in four Wayne County high schools

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Graduation rates up in four Wayne County high schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 23, 2008 1:48 PM

Graduation rates in Wayne County are ahead of the state figure for the second consecutive year, with four public high schools seeing an increase and three others showing a dip, officials say.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction on Tuesday released its annual Cohort Graduation rate, which was 69.7 percent. Comparatively, Wayne County's 2008 rate is 72.1 percent.

The Cohort Graduation Rate measure reflects the percentage of 2004-05 ninth graders who graduated from high school in four years, by June 30, 2008. Since the calculation for the 2005-06 school year, when Wayne County's graduation rates were at 61.5 percent, the numbers have risen 10.6 percent.

Last year's rate for the district was at 68 percent.

Schools seeing an increase in the latest tally included Wayne Early/Middle College High School, 97.1 percent; Rosewood High, 89.2 percent; Eastern Wayne High, 85.6 percent; and Charles B. Aycock High with 80.7 percent.

Decreases were reported at Goldsboro High School, which has a 47.8 percent graduation rate; Southern Wayne High, 66.6 percent; and Spring Creek High, 73.6 percent.

Graduation rates, more often referred to as "dropout rates," have been an ongoing concern to educators and community members around the county. In recent years, debate has heightened -- both internally and from outside sources such as the latest efforts by a group of business leaders targeting the need for more vocational training at the high school level.

The district is taking a diligent approach, said schools superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor.

"Our high schools are working very hard to help every student graduate, and the results show that their efforts are paying off," he said. "Our district is proud that we are above the state average, but understands there is still more work to be done."

Increasing the rate is not an overnight process, he continued, with efforts being stepped up to prepare children for graduation earlier and earlier.

The district's Wee Wings program is one example of that. The mobile pre-K classroom travels to areas of the county underserved by such programs.

A Ready Schools Task Force has also been organized to better prepare children for elementary school and beyond, as well as to assist schools with challenges that may occur in the classroom.

There have also been an assortment of state and local initiatives introduced to improve education in the school system, said Ken Derksen, public information officer.

Among them, he said, are the two newest schools, an offshoot of New Schools Project, promoting smaller, more focused schools -- Wayne Early/Middle College High School and School of Engineering; the state's Virtual High School, allowing students to take courses online; mentor programs in all schools; and freshman academies to better transition students from middle to high school.

Another area of emphasis is on the low wealth, or poorer, student population, Derksen said. These students oftentimes lack access to educational resources at home and therefore struggle academically, he said.

Realizing this, the district has utilized computer labs with assistive technology in math and reading, as well as provided tutoring opportunities to help such students keep pace with their counterparts.

One of the biggest challenges faced by the school system, however, is that of perception. While 72.1 percent of students in Wayne County might have graduated in four years of high school or less, Derksen said, that does not necessarily mean the remaining 27.9 percent simply dropped out.

Broken down, he explained, the latter number of students fall into several categories -- students who graduate in more than four years, those with disabilities who earn a graduation certificate, students who move and cannot be located, and those who transfer to programs such as Wayne Community College's adult high school diploma program to complete their studies.

And, he continued, while some might drop out of school and not return, still others later opt to go on to receive their high school diploma.