By Wendy Holdren
High school graduation rates in West Virginia have increased 8.5 percent in the past five years, and the majority of local school systems are also a part of that trend.
From implementing credit recovery programs, to simply making dropping out of high school more difficult, local school systems are working to increase graduation rates in the southern part of the state.
Nicholas County boasts a 14 percent increase in graduation rates in the past five years, with Richwood High School at 83 percent and Nicholas County High School at 85 percent for the 2011-2012 school year.
“That’s up from 70 percent from about five years,” Superintendent Beverly Kingery said.
She said Nicholas County schools have a more formalized dropout process now, where students and parents have to meet formally with her to discuss the student’s options.
Kingery also noted the truancy program, the nontraditional education program, virtual courses and alternative education programs have greatly impacted graduation rates.
A program called “Option Pathway,” for students who may not succeed in a traditional high school setting, was started three years ago. These students are offered courses at the Board of Education office with a teacher in a small setting.
“I can look back over my six-plus years here and think of students in the first year or two who would have graduated if those programs had been put in place.”
As for future plans, Kingery said
vocational students may be allowed to stay at the vocational-technical school all day instead of a half-day, and they would be allowed to get high school graduation credits there.
Monroe County Superintendent Joetta Basile said graduation rates are up 14 percent just from 2012 to 2013.
“We have a dropout prevention policy in place. In 2011, we had 27 dropouts, which decreased to two in 2012,” Basile said.
James Monroe High School recorded three dropouts in 2013, but Basile is confident their programs are working. “All students identified as being at-risk are assigned a mentor.”
She said community members, as well as school employees, are used as mentors, which really brings the school system and the community together.
“They meet once a week, help with homework, school supplies, etc. Their job is to help the child with what they need to be successful in school.”
She said at-risk students are also given incentives to stay in school through Finish Line Clubs, which offer field trips and games as positive reinforcement.
“Our dropout procedure is not a three-day procedure. A kid can’t just get mad and say, ‘I’m going to drop out.’ They must meet with the principal and guidance counselor to try to resolve the issue, then it’s taken to the central office. We try to exhaust all avenues.”
Basile also said Monroe County successfully requested a grant to raise the age a student can drop out to 18, which has been helpful in dropout prevention.
“Research clearly states that a student who drops out has a higher rate of incarceration, higher chances of addiction to drugs and alcohol, as well as a negative effect on career options. We want as many students as possible to graduate.”
Greenbrier East and Greenbrier West high schools have also seen an impressive graduation rate increase in the past few years, according to Associate Superintendent Cathy Thompson.
In 2009, Greenbrier East was at 70.9 percent and West was at 74.56 percent; however, for the 2012-2013 year, those numbers have jumped to 82.11 and 86.32, respectively.
“We do credit recovery in the summer, Option Pathway during the school year,” Thompson said. “As many schools have done, we initiated an exit criteria, which makes it harder to drop out.”
She said statistics show that getting hired without a high school diploma is “virtually impossible.”
Even if students do drop out, Thompson said Greenbrier County encourages them to get their GED or ABE (Adult Basic Education).
“We will take them no matter what. We don’t ever give up on them.”
She also said truancy rates have gone down over the years, with the help of the court system, but no matter the truancy rate, “even if it’s 10 children ... it’s a problem.”
As for future program plans, Thompson said student support groups are being implemented to hear what the students have to say.
“We’re very excited about the insight they’re bringing.”
Raleigh County schools are a part of the upward trend as well, according to Kenny Moles, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.
“In four years, we have risen from 77.1 percent in 2010 to 82.2 percent in 2013.”
Moles said the statistics were 78.7 percent countywide for 2011 and 2012.
“Eighty-two percent is not where we want to be. With nearly 20 percent dropping out, that’s not acceptable. We’re happy for the increase, but there’s more work to be done.”
He said attendance director Millard Francis and assistant director Patty Bryant have been working with the judicial system on truancy, making sure kids are in school regularly to receive their education.
“We’re certainly going to stay the course, but there were items that we are incorporating from pre-K through 12th grade.”
Moles said the recently implemented iPad initiative shows promise — research points to significant decreases in dropout rates with the implementation of the latest technology.
He said he hopes to see attendance rates improve, but overall, according to county data, every high school in the county saw a graduation rate increase from 2010.
“This is absolutely a testament to how hard our teachers and our principals work every day for the students we serve.”
Frank Mann, assistant superintendent for Wyoming County Schools, said county graduation rates have stayed around 80 percent for the past three years.
At Westside, rates went up from 79.3 to 79.9 from 2010-2011 to 2011-2012, and at Wyoming East, rates increased from 81.38 to 83.72.
Both schools saw a decrease in 2012-2013, but Mann said that drop was an exception to the upward trend.
“Whenever you have a child that has multi-handicaps, physical and mental, they can remain in school until they’re 21,” Mann explained. “When they look at graduation rates, even though they complete and they earn what they call a ‘modified diploma,’ the fact they do not exit high school four years after they enter, they count them as a dropout.”
He said several students at Wyoming County schools had “aged out,” meaning the students completed their education, but not within four years.
“The graduation rate for next year is expected to be 84 percent because they don’t have any students aging out.”
Mann said Westside and Wyoming East are striving each year to encourage graduation.
“We would like to have 100 percent. We work constantly to keep every student that we can in school. The principal, assistant principals, guidance counselors, teachers, they all counsel the students to keep them in school.”
Wyoming County offers after-school tutoring and before-school tutoring, as well as credit recovery during the school year and the summer.
Summers County graduation rates have been around 76 percent the past couple years, according to Superintendent Vicki Hinerman.
Hinerman said Summers County offers credit recovery programs and she also credits state law dropout changes with increasing graduation rates.
As for Fayette County, associate superintendent Mary Lu MacCorkle reported that rates have fluctuated since 2010.
The five high schools, Fayetteville, Meadow Bridge, Midland Trail, Oak Hill and Valley High, averaged 76.89 percent in 2010, 74.87 in 2011 and 73.18 in 2012.
MacCorkle said the schools have been making progress, but dropouts have played a significant part in lowered graduation rates.
“We had 146 dropouts in 2007-2008 and 152 in 2008-2009. Last year we had 55, which will translate into good gains moving forward.”
Graduation coaches have been hired for two of the high schools in order to identify at-risk students and form relationships with them and their parents.
Meadow Bridge has the highest reported graduation rates, with 87.5 in 2010, 95.34 in 2011 and 86.84 in 2012.
As for the 95 percent rate in 2011, MacCorkle said the community is very tight-knit — “They saw the students were having issues, so they worked with under-performing students.
“We’re working more intensely with 11th- and 12th-graders, but we’re taking that to an earlier level and trying to form some alliances with middle schools to help make sure kids have the support and come to high school with the skills they need.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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