07/25/11 — Officials: Results say grad coaches working

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Officials: Results say grad coaches working

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 25, 2011 1:46 PM

Introducing graduation coaches at two area high schools is making a difference, officials say.

And not just in terms of ensuring students will graduate on time.

At a time when budget cuts are common while unfunded mandates continue to rise, school districts like Wayne County can use all the resources and support they can get.

The idea of a graduation coach was first mentioned at a Goldsboro City Council meeting in 2009 when Wayne County Development Alliance existing industry specialist Mike Haney and Sudie Davis of Communities in Schools suggested something needed to be done to improve Goldsboro High School's graduation rate, then at 47.7 percent.

The concept was becoming popular throughout the nation, so when Haney and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as Mrs. Davis, brought back their findings from another state model, it was timely, said Dr. Sandra McCullen, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

"We're very grateful that Communities in Schools stepped up to the plate and worked with us," she said.

At the outset, the city and county each funded $29,000 for the first year. Communities in Schools spearheaded the effort, hiring retired educator and administrator Barbara Wilkins to work at GHS.

"The first year, a group of 26 kids were referred to the graduation coach," Mrs. Davis said. "She provided guidance and support for that group of students. She guided them through their graduation projects and formed partnerships with several agencies in the community to assist in making that happen. All of those young people graduated that year."

The graduation rate at the school increased.

"Before we started, in 2008-08, the graduation rate was 47.7 percent. At the end of our first year at the school, the graduation rate was 53.7," Mrs. Davis said. "The unofficial graduation rate this year is 67.7. I feel confident that the graduation coach has contributed to this accomplishment."

Mrs. Wilkins also introduced a program for younger students designed to improve their job readiness skills.

"Our graduation coach also worked, especially first semester, with 45 young people who were involved in the WorkKeys WIN program. We were very excited when we realized the impact that that experience provided on those young people's self-confidence and improved abilities."

Of the 45 enrolled in it, 22 took the WorkKeys test. All earned career readiness certificates, Mrs. Davis said -- one gold, 11 silver and nine bronze.

The accomplishment was all the more impressive, she noted, since the students were only ninth-graders.

"Seventeen of those freshmen also took the reading placement test at Wayne Community College," she said. "Of the 17, six of them passed on the first try. And remember, they were all high school freshmen.

"Not only did they pass the reading test but six of the 17, 37 and one-half percent, also moved up a level in English on the EOC (end of course) tests and that was significant."

Throughout the past year, other students began to show up at Mrs. Wilkins' office -- some self-referred, others brought by a friend, but the majority requesting help with graduation projects.

"Graduation projects are not part of her job description," Mrs. Davis pointed out. "But she willingly chose to provide that support.

"At the end of the year, she had worked with 125 students at Goldsboro High School, most of them seniors and the vast majority of them on their graduation projects. Not only did she work with them, she also found mentors for about 50 of the kids. ... Mentors worked with them on their graduation projects to guide them through the process."

It's a challenging endeavor, she noted, so it was exciting when they were all turned in.

"As the seniors realized they had to complete graduation projects, and as school staff and CIS staff increased their support to help meet the needs of the students, the atmosphere in the school changed," Mrs. Davis said. "It was rewarding to see students, people from the community, school staff members, working side by side to assist students in reaching their goals."

Mrs. McCullen said the adage "It takes a village to raise a child" proved especially true.

"The community and volunteers that came in and helped by mentoring were integral," she said. "Of course, graduation coaches, their role is not the graduation project. Their role is to educate students and parents along with all the faculty of our schools.

"I think it was rewarding to many to see the students and how much they appreciated the support by the adults who came out to help. (Students) were so proud of their accomplishments."

A second graduation coach was hired this year, at Southern Wayne High School. Raymond Clark was assigned a caseload of 53 students.

"The needs at Southern Wayne have been very different, very different, and I had no idea some of what was going on in rural areas affects the kids adversely," Mrs. Davis said. "As he shared stories of what he has run into, it was an awakening for me.

"I do know that the Southern Wayne High School attendance is a much bigger issue than at GHS. Mr. Clark went out and pulled kids out of bed and said, 'You're coming to school' and did that multiple times because you cannot succeed in school if you don't attend school."

He dealt with a lot of extreme situations, Mrs. Davis said, but definitely proved to have a heart for students at the school.

"He was a true advocate for students, willing to fight the battle for them and to provide guidance for them to be more successful," she said. "In both of the high schools (with coaches) the seniors who were on the case load of our graduation coaches, all but one of them graduated and that's significant."

Mrs. McCullen said she was pleased with the efforts of both graduation coaches.

"They have helped our parents keep students on task," she said. Whether through home visits or simply bringing in resources, she said, the community has been especially receptive to the concept of a graduation coach.

Ideally, the district could use a graduation at every high school, Mrs. McCullen said. Perhaps middle schools, too. The district is also in the process of investigating possible grant funding to provide a similar type coach at Dillard Middle School, she said.

"It's so important," she said. "Southern Wayne has a population with the Hispanic population that was so important with the graduation coach. Raymond Clark really helped with that segment of the population ... with what they needed to graduate and helping the faculty understand the culture and what was needed (to graduate)."

The future of the position, meanwhile, remains unclear.

"The county has given us $29,000, which we will use at Goldsboro High School (next year)," Mrs. Davis said. "We're still seeking additional funding for the Southern Wayne position."

"We have to look for those grants," agreed Mrs. McCullen.

At a time when schools operate under the "5 R's" -- rigor, relevance, relationship, routine and regular practice -- there is a need to have as many caring adults as possible shoring up the education system, she said.

"Even in high school, they don't care what you know, they need to know that you care," she said. "That's the hook that keeps them in school.

"The adults in the community are the key to help all of our students be successful."