Z -Three C's Spur Spike in Graduation Rate

This past May, Elizabeth Kaplan stood at the podium and presented her valedictorian speech at the LaGrange High School (LHS) graduation ceremony. She reminisced on how her involvement in the LHS marching band was a safe-haven and provided endless support to her during her high school career. She made an eloquent speech to a crowd of her peers, family members, and friends. She knew she would graduate, and she knew her teachers, parents, and schoolmates would be there to celebrate with her. 

During the same formative high school years as Kaplan, a young gentleman was bouncing between high schools in Troup County. He was not attending class on a regular basis. His behavior was an issue for administrators and his family. At one point, he became homeless. During this time, he was trying to complete his required high school courses and receive credit for them; but he was struggling.

He decided to transfer to Callaway High School (CHS) to get a fresh start. He joined the ROTC career pathway, but there was still doubt that he would obtain a high school diploma because he needed to recover credit that he had lost in previous years. He didn’t think he would graduate. But one day last year, he received a call from the faculty of CHS who told him about a new Professional Learning Center (PLC) program Troup County School System (TCSS) was offering. This program would personalize learning for him by customizing an instructional program to demonstrate mastery in required courses. Administrators told him the PLC would provide an avenue for him to graduate based on his unique situation. He still had to complete the work, though.

And he did.

Today, CHS Principal Jonathan Laney proudly shares the story about this high school graduate who is now enrolled at a local college and is gainfully employed in Troup County.

Kaplan and the young gentleman who graduated from Callaway High experienced the same end result – they both earned a diploma and graduated from high school. They just took different paths. What contributed to the success of these, and many other students, were the elements that have been building at TCSS for the last several years: a culture shift, collaboration across schools and divisions, and constant communication.

Graduation Rates

Each year, the Georgia Department of Education releases a four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, which is required by the U.S. Department of Education. This rate is defined as the number of students who enter their high school freshman year together and graduate within four years together. It includes adjustments for student transfers. If students drop out, or are removed from school for disciplinary reasons, that cohort group rate is impacted.  


This year, TCSS saw an increase in over six percentage points from 2017. In addition, the school system witnessed a rise in student sub-group graduation rates such as economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, black, and multi-racial students. Altogether, 84.3% of students who entered 9th grade in the fall of 2014 earned their high school diploma in 2018.  All three high schools played an important role in this increased rate, and they said it goes back to the three C’s of:
 

  • Culture
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
     

State School Superintendent Richard Woods said, “There is an unprecedented emphasis on supporting the whole child and making sure every single student understands the relevance of what they’re learning. I’m confident we’ll continue to see these gains as long as we’re still expanding opportunities that keep students invested in their education.”
 

For the past three years, the district has emphasized employee professional learning and educators have participated in forward-thinking courses designed to meet the needs of students in their classrooms. As a result, TCSS has witnessed increases in student engagement, improvements in curriculum, and additional opportunities for students such as THINC College & Career Academy pathways, work-based learning, dual enrollment, and certifications.
 

Graduation rates in Troup County have improved 12.7 percent over four years, while the state of Georgia had a 2.7 percent increase in the same amount of time. This significant increase is the direct result of a systemic shift from a “one size fits all” approach to teaching to an “individualized approach” to learning. With a total of 710 graduates, the TCSS 2018 graduation rates are as follows:

 

 

2015 Graduation Rate

2016 Graduation Rate

2017 Graduation Rate

2018 Graduation Rate

Callaway High School

67.2%

74.9%

78.5%

84.1%

LaGrange High School

70.7%

74.7%

79.9%

81.9%

Troup High School

75.8%

80.9%

78.0%

87.2%

TCSS

71.4%

76.9%

78.0%

84.1%

Ga. Dept. of Education

78.9%

79.2%

80.6%

81.6%

 

Culture
 

At Callaway High School (CHS), Principal Jonathan Laney is proud of the school’s 5.6 percent increase over the previous year. In fact, the Cavaliers have seen a 16.9 percent leap since 2015. Laney said it started with a shift in culture for him and his staff. “Over the past four years, the faculty and staff of Callaway High School have been on a mission to improve the culture and climate of our classrooms and our school. This began with a focus on building strong relationships among all stakeholders including students, teachers, parents, and the community.”
 

He shared that, “really digging into the individual needs of students also made the difference. We began to truly focus on their personalized situation to determine how to remove barriers and support them on their road toward graduation. We worked diligently to improve our instructional practices and raise expectations for all students. Our students have responded by meeting and exceeding those expectations.”
 

Collaboration
 

Troup High School (THS) witnessed a huge 9.3 percent increase over last year’s graduation rates. With 87.2 percent of students in the cohort earning their high school diploma. THS Principal Niki Watts said this success is attributed to collaborative efforts between the system, the staff, students, and families. She noted that while there is always a friendly competitiveness between schools, they support each other in their successes and seek to help when needed.
 

She knows the staff at Troup High is, “thrilled with the gains in the graduation rate, and we are more determined than ever to continue improving.”
 

The former THS student who was named Principal over the summer months said, “This increase is the result of a focused, sustained effort at both the district and school level and is a testament to the passion and dedication of our teachers and the diligent work of our students. Over the past few years we have prioritized rigorous and relevant instruction, and most importantly, building positive relationships with our students. In doing so we have made Troup High a supportive environment that fosters success for all of our Tigers.”  
 

She checked off implementation initiatives such as Tiger Time, PLC’s, literacy across the curriculum, and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports that have positively impacted student rigor and engagement. Watts said she believes all of these collaborative efforts are starting to manifest into results.
 

Communication
 

“We had to do something different,” said LaGrange High Principal, Alton White. “All three high school principals got together and came up with a plan to address some of our students who were struggling and possibly wouldn’t complete graduation on the traditional path. We were supported by the district as we began creating and implementing the PLC (professional learning communities).”
 

White described one of those summer graduates who dropped out and began working at a local fast food restaurant. LHS staff members reached out to him to talk about graduating with the help of personalized learning in the PLC. Now, the student has not only received his high school diploma, but he enlisted in the armed forces and is an active duty serviceman.  
 

Over the last four years, Grangers have increased their graduation rate 11.2 percent to finish 2018 with 81.9 percent. White said there were about 20 additional students on his campus that graduated during a summer ceremony that was held in the media center. “The communication between the parents, students, teachers, and the school was phenomenal. Those students had support from every corner. One of the graduates spoke about the opportunity to earn his high school diploma. It brought a lot of happy tears and smiles as students – who may not have had the chance to graduate - walked across the stage to receive their diploma.”
 

College and Career Ready Graduates
 

Overall, for TCSS, Principal Niki Watts summed it up by saying, “We really prioritize telling our story. The support from our teachers, staff, the district, and our stakeholders has been invaluable. We have focused on employability skills and correlating that with student engagement. They understand how impactful it is in their lives after graduation. Our stakeholders have helped us share the importance of that message because it ultimately impacts not only the student, but the entire community. We all seek to produce college and career ready graduates.”