08/05/09 — County OKs request for grad coach funds

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County OKs request for grad coach funds

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 5, 2009 1:46 PM

Despite a tight county budget that was frozen the moment it went into effect, county commissioners Tuesday morning committed to finding $29,000 for a $58,000 pilot program aimed at improving graduation rates at Goldsboro High School.

Not only did the board approve the money, Commissioner Jack Best challenged the Goldsboro City Council to come up with the other $29,000. The proposal was put before City Council Monday night, but no action was taken.

Best, long a proponent of improving graduation rates and thereby reducing dropout rates, made the motion to provide the funding. The motion passed 6-0. Commissioner Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Wayne County Public Schools, recused herself and did not vote.

County Manager Lee Smith assured commissioners that the money could be pulled from the contingency fund and not from the reserve fund.

The funds will be used to implement a pilot graduation coach program at Goldsboro High School where the graduation rate is 47.7 percent -- the lowest of the county's five high schools.

The program, based on one that has proven successful in Georgia, was presented by Mike Haney, who is working with Communities in Schools (CIS) in Wayne County, which will administer it.

"It is a community crisis as far as graduation rates at Goldsboro High School," Haney said. "It is well below the county and the state (averages). It is time for community involvement and to turn this around."

Before agreeing to the funding, Commissioner Andy Anderson and the other board members sought assurance that it was a "hands-on" program and not something where students would just be referred to the Internet to find information.

Haney said the coach would work directly with students.

"If the kids don't show up for school, the coach finds out why," he said.

"Without being a social worker, it is like being a social worker or case worker," Smith said.

The coach, he said, would take the extra time and energy the students require.

The coach will not be an employee of the school system, but rather will work through CIS. The position will be advertised. However, Haney said that a local resident who has experience as a graduation coach in another state has expressed an interest in the job.

Haney said that CIS Director Sudie Davis has a plan and budget in place, and that CIS would provide the training later this month. The program would include an advisory council, too, Haney said.

The coach would identify and provide early intervention services to students at risk of dropping out or otherwise not graduating.

Those duties would include motivating students to focus on a graduation pan, providing direct student support and case management, encouraging parent/community involvement and negotiating extra help services.

Over the six years the program has been used in Georgia, the graduation rate has grown from 63.3 to 75.4 percent, while the dropout rate has fallen, Haney said.

Georgia has more than 800 graduation coaches in its middle and high schools. The coaches offer intervention services to support the personal and academic needs of nearly 100,000 at-risk students.

Commissioners also were interested as to whether the coach would work at Dillard Middle School, a feeder school for Goldsboro High School.

The coach will talk with middle school counselors about students, but to start with, the coach will work at the high school only, Haney said.

Haney agreed with commissioners that it would be even more beneficial to eventually include middle schools as well.

It is in middle school, commissioners said, where students are "lost."

Commissioner J.D. Evans said he understood the significance of using Goldsboro High School for the pilot program. However, he said he would like to see a county-wide focus.

He noted that while Goldsboro High School's graduation rate was the lowest that the actual number of students in need is larger at other schools, such as Southern Wayne High School where the graduation rate is 66.6 percent.

"I agree," Haney said. "But the pilot for one school we knew would be reachable. I agree Southern Wayne would be a great place to put another, but we didn't know if we could get the funds."

Haney added that CIS would apply for state grant funding aimed at dropout prevention.