Two new success coaches have been hired at middle schools in Wayne County Public Schools.

As the program continues to stay afloat, the executive director of Communities in Schools keeps an eye on potential funding streams.

"We are in the middle of the grant funding process for another year," Selena Bennett said this week.

Mrs. Bennett has been executive director since 2011.

"We would love to expand but as always, it will depend on the funding that we receive. We never really know anything until budget planning is over for our grant funders," she said. "This often means that it is June before we know what we may have for the next fiscal year. We are waiting to hear from several. My current goal is to keep the positions that I have in place at six schools."

The effort to bolster graduation rates began much earlier, with the Goldsboro City Council voting in 2009 to fund a graduation coach at Goldsboro High School. At the time, the school had a 47 percent graduation rate.

The pilot program was implemented with retired principal Barbara Wilkins hired as the first graduation coach. At the outset, she primarily worked with a group of seniors who would benefit from the extra effort.

Mrs. Wilkins, still in the role, became sought after by other students and the role was expanded. The latest graduation rate at the school was 69 percent.

Communities in Schools was able to secure funding for a similar program at Southern Wayne High School, with a second coach hired in 2010. Graduation rates at that school have since risen from 60 percent to 74 percent.

The program continues to be funded by the county and city, as well as federal money and other sources.

Proponents of the effort also pushed for the need to start focusing on graduation rates earlier, filtering down to younger grades. The program expanded at four middle schools -- Brogden, Grantham, Mount Olive and Spring Creek -- and underwent a name change, to success coaches.

It has drawn a healthy pool of applicants, especially from retired educators.

In addition to Mrs. Wilkins, the duties at Southern Wayne are shared by Sharon Patterson and Gene Jackson, both of whom previously worked in the school system. Greg Batts, a former classroom teacher, coach and probation officer, is success coach at Brogden Middle.

Veda McNair, a retired principal whose last role was at Eastern Wayne Elementary, is success coach at Spring Creek Middle.

Two other positions were recently vacated, as Celia James, a retired principal who was the success coach at Grantham School, moved to Charlotte, and Mary Kay James, retired principal who was the success coach at Mount Olive Middle, was named SIG specialist. She will now oversee a five-year, $1.3 million School Improvement Grant at Brogden Middle School.

Stepping in to the position at Grantham is Debbie Brantham, while Terri McKay is assigned to Mount Olive Middle.

"Debbie Brantham is a retired media specialist," Mrs. Bennett said. "She is rooted in the Grantham community and brings a variety of skills to the job."

"Terri McKay has a background in early childhood and middle school. She has worked for the past four years as a Title I tutor at MOM. She was the perfect choice -- she knew the students, the staff and the community."

In addition to pursuing grants and other funding sources, CIS will host its big annual fundraiser, "Have a Heart for Kids" on March 31, at the Terrace Room, from 6-9 p.m.

Tickets are $40 a person or $70 per couple.

The event features a raffle and a silent auction. This year's goal is to raise $20,000 for the program, Mrs. Bennett said.