Johnston County high schools saw their graduation rate climb one-tenth of a percentage point this past school year.
The county’s overall rate rose from 82.4 percent in 2012 to 82.5 percent in 2013. Statewide, the graduation rate climbed from 80.4 percent to 82.5 percent.
In Johnston, some of the highest graduation rates were at schools that held their first commencements this year. At Corinth Holders, 93.1 percent of students who started high school four years ago graduated this year. At Cleveland High, the rate was even higher, at 93.8 percent. Johnston County Early College Academy, which had 43 students in its senior class, posted a graduation rate of 95 percent.
“We were thankful that it was above the county average,” said Corinth Holders Principal Chase Ferrell.
Ferrell attributed his school’s high graduation rate to two programs that target students at risk of dropping out.
One program is SMART, or Students Maximizing Academics Through Resources and Time. Every school day, Corinth Holders offers a 30-minute window in which students can take advantage of tutoring opportunities.
The other program, offered Thursday afternoons, is Coach Club. Student tutors help classmates who struggling are in any subject.
“We hope to grow that program and get more students involved to be tutors,” Ferrell said.
Both programs give students time outside of class to get one-on-one help.
In a third program, students who have failed a class can take it again online.
In Johnston, the only other school with a graduation rate above 90 percent was the Middle College, where 95 percent of its 60 seniors graduated this past June.
Clayton High School saw its graduation rate fall from 87.5 percent in 2012 to 86.1 this year. Principal Clint Eaves said he is pleased though, because the rate has stayed relatively steady for the past five years.
Clayton High has a program similar to SMART, called power block. For 40 minutes every day, students can visit teachers to ask questions or attend tutoring sessions in specific subjects. Clayton High also has an evening academy in which students can take classes online.
As for the rest of Johnston’s high schools, four saw their graduation rate fall, and two saw an increase.
West Johnson High dipped from 89 percent in 2012 to 84.7 percent this year. The school’s graduation rate hasn’t been that low since 2010, when it was 84.2 percent.
Principal Paula Coates attributed most of the decline to implementing the Common Core standards, which have more rigor and accountability. Also, the rate also does not include 12 students who graduated in a summer academy, she said.
Coates said West Johnston is adding more scheduling options and required tutoring to help at-risk students.
“The overall five-year trend is still an increase,” Coates said. “We certainly did not want to dip, and we want to get that back up.”
South Johnston High lost the progress it made between 2011 and 2012, dropped from 79.7 percent last year to 76.6 percent in 2013.
South High Principal Eddie Price said he was disappointed in the numbers but predicted the graduation rate would improve next year because of several new programs.
Last year, South Johnston launched what it calls “power block,” a program similar to the SMART program at Corinth holders. But, because the program was new, students did not know how to take full advantage of it, Price said.
“I’m so excited about the power block and everyone understanding what it means and what we can do with it,” he said.
Also, South Johnston will also offer an Agriculture Academy starting this fall. The academy will cast core classes like English and math in an agricultural context.
“About 30 percent of our dropouts are people interested in doing agricultural work as a career, and this will keep them interested in school,” Price said.
At Smithfield-Selma High, which has consistently had the county’s lowest graduation rate, the rate increased yet again this year, from 72.3 percent in 2012 to 75.1 percent. The rate is still the lowest in the county but is now just one percentage point behind South Johnston High’s.
Principal Michael Taylor attributed the change to multiple factors, especially the creation of the school’s freshman academy. Before the academy, Taylor said, half of the school’s dropouts were freshmen, and only 70 percent of freshmen became sophomores. Now, 90 percent of freshmen make it to their sophomore year.
Taylor said improvement is a long process that requires building a foundation for success.
“The idea of focusing on academics and making school an important part of our kids lives is a culture change,” he said. “Those things don’t happen overnight. We basically have begun to re-culture our students and our faculty at our school, and our graduation rate is indicative of that change.”