06/21/10 — Graduation coach deemed 'success'

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Graduation coach deemed 'success'

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 21, 2010 1:46 PM

All of the 28 at-risk Goldsboro High School seniors who worked with the school's new graduation coach received their diplomas during graduation ceremonies at the school.

Just how those figures will affect the school's graduation rate remains to be seen. But regardless of what the numbers reflect, they will not shake the faith of Communities in Schools director Sudie Davis that the school's graduation coach program has been successful.

Also, students at the school scoring at grade level on end-of-course testing improved from 52.6 percent to 58.7 percent for the second semester.

"We are wildly excited about that," she said. "If the graduation rate does not improve this year, we know that we have had a very positive impact on these kids.

"They have told us (in their comments about the program), 'She kept me from dropping out.' I love this one, 'I think the graduation coach was a great gift to Goldsboro High School. She sprinkled her magic dust and made us realize we all have potential to be great leaders. My only disappointment is that I wasn't a student chosen to work with such a great lady.'"

And Mrs. Davis is excited at the prospect that the county, despite a tight budget, is willing to fund a similar position at Southern Wayne High School at Dudley. It is an excitement Southern Wayne High School principal Dr. John Boldt shares.

"Anything that can help get the graduation rate up, I am all for it," said Boldt, who is familiar with graduation coaches having worked with them in other counties. "The more resources we have to help students graduate, the better. Our whole goal is to prepare the students for life after high school, be it college or work.

"If we don't have a 100 percent graduation rate then we are not as successful as we need to be."

The graduation coach program is based on one that has proven successful in Georgia. Locally, it is administered by Communities in Schools (CIS). The coaches work through CIS and are not school employees.

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

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

Boldt said he had heard the graduation coach might "be in the works," but had not realized it was in the budget.

"From what I have heard, the graduation coach (at Goldsboro) has been very successful, and I would love to have that position here," he said. "I would love to have any help."

Southern Wayne's graduation rate for 2008-09 was about 72 percent and Goldsboro High School's rate was 44.7. The county average was 72.1 percent, while the state's was 70.3 percent.

Wayne County's recently adopted $156 million budget for fiscal 2010-11 not only continues funding $29,000 for the Goldsboro High School graduation coach, it adds another $29,000 for a similar coach at Southern Wayne.

The county's $29,000 for the Southern Wayne graduation coach will come from a $250,000 appropriation for the schools.

"Since the schools will not be using it, we placed it in a contingency fund controlled by commissioners," County Manager Lee Smith said. "The schools are aware of and are fine with it."

Commissioners agreed last year to fund $29,000 for Goldsboro High School as part of a $58,000 pilot program aimed at improving graduation rates at the school.

At that time commissioners challenged the Goldsboro City Council to provide another $29,000, which it did. The new city budget did not make any provision for the program.

However, Mrs. Davis said she has been told that program supporters plan to approach Mayor Al King about reinstating the funding.

Mrs. Davis said she had been encouraged by a county commissioner to talk to Smith and ask that the money be appropriated for the program.

Barbara Wilkins, a retired educator and school administrator, was hired last August as the graduation coach at Goldsboro High School. No one has been hired at Southern Wayne.

But Mrs. Davis has all the necessary paperwork ready, including job description and an employment ad, so that she can begin the search for the coach.

Mrs. Davis plans to utilize some money remaining from the original county and city appropriations to help cover some of the costs. She is in the process of seeking grant funding to help with the rest.

She said she has been savvy enough to keep the program before commissioners and school officials through regular reports outlining what had been done during that time.

For example, between January and April, there were 65 volunteers assisting students, 30 sets of headphones were purchased for a computer lab at the school and CIS was able to broker a reduced student ticket rate to ride the GATEWAY bus system.

Those are just a few of several partnerships formed, she said.

"We knew we needed to get transportation for some of these kids," she said. "They are some of the poorest kids in the city. They don't have cars. Oftentimes their mothers don't have cars.

"We distributed 350 bus passes this year for the kids to ride home. That way they could stay for tutoring after school. The senior project was a partnership between Wayne Community College and the WorkKeys and Communities in Schools."

Mrs. Wilkins has been instrumental in helping students with meeting requirements of their senior projects, too, she said.

"We are waiting for test data, the end-of-course test scores and waiting to see just how many kids will qualify to graduate this year," Mrs. Davis said. "Barbara worked really hard to help this group of students with their graduation projects. That particular initiative required 25 to 30 hours of the kid's time and commitment to get through that. They did not have to write a research paper but they did have to put in 10 hours. If they didn't have it done on the day it was due, she added an hour for every day it was overdue."

The hour had to be spent working in the WEN program, a software program tied to WorkKeys that helped them improve their work skills, she said.

At the start of the year, students stopped by to see Mrs. Wilkins about their projects. It was discovered that some of the students had turned in papers to a teacher who had since left and the papers could not be found.

"The kids were a bit desperate," she said. "So that has been a big focus for the graduation coach to assist the 25 students who were referred to us. But she has probably helped another 20 besides that on graduation projects.

"She has been instrumental in finding people in the community to help mentor these kids through their projects."

While the focus has been on the 25 students who were referred to Mrs. Wilkins, other students were helped, too.

"We did not exclude others who walked in, by any means" Mrs. Davis said. "This has been an interesting year. The school referred 25 kids. We have probably worked with 125. Several have been parents who came in with concerns, so Barbara talked with them and met with them.

"It is very clear she had a very positive impact on the students."