Graduation rate doubles

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Graduation rate doubles
Caption: A 2016 senior graduates. (File photo)

By Catharin Shepard • 

Staff writer •

The graduation rate for Hoke County Schools is now roughly the same as the state average, and even better in some subgroups of students, school officials announced this week.

Hoke County Schools’ four-year cohort graduation rate for 2020 was a combined 87.6 percent. That means over 87 percent of students who started high school as freshmen in 2016, earned their diplomas in 2020.

The rate combined the graduation rates from SandHoke Early College High School and Hoke High. SandHoke Early College had a 100 percent graduation rate in 2020, and Hoke High had an 85.5 percent graduation rate.

That’s a far different outlook than in 2006, when fewer than half of all Hoke High students were graduating with a diploma in four years. At that time – before SandHoke had graduated its first class – the graduation rate in Hoke County was far below the state average, at 47 percent.

Hoke High Principal Dr. Adell Baldwin, himself a Hoke High grad, recalled what it was like being the parent of a student who graduated with the Class of 2006.

“The message wasn’t portrayed as being very important. You could make a decent living in Hoke County at that time without a high school diploma,” he said.

But then the country went into a recession, jobs vanished and some industries struggled.

Hoke County Schools took steps, including hiring Superintendent Dr. Freddie Williamson, to make improvements.

Fourteen years later, there’s a cohesive message: not only is earning a high school diploma important, students should be ready to look beyond a diploma “to get to the next level,” Baldwin said.

“You see a gradual shift. This is what is expected of you. We’re going to give you all the support, all the tools you need to make it,” he said.

Over the last decade and a half, the schools have worked with Williamson to create a consistent message for students.

“We try to be consistent throughout the entire district and have a laser focus as a district,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Shannon Register said. “Having that alignment piece to ensure that everyone had a common language, a common goal that they were shooting for.”

The school system keeps track of reasons students give for why they don’t complete their education. When they do have dropouts, a lot of the time it’s because they’re unable to stay in contact with students who move away, Baldwin said.

“We don’t lose a lot that say they’re dropping out. They usually say they’re moving away and we can’t find them,” he said. Without documentation that a student enrolled in another school district, that student is considered as having dropped out.

Some groups of students in particular have made strides toward improving the graduation rate. The state requires schools to collect data on different “subgroups” of students. Native American students, and economically disadvantaged students have both made great strides in recent years in finishing their high school diploma, according to administrators. Officials particularly credited the work of dropout prevention coordinators who regularly speak with families and try to help resolve any issues that keep students from getting to school.

There are also many other steps the school system has taken in efforts to improve the graduation rate.

Steps to improvement
SandHoke Early College High School was one of the early attempts at making that shift happen. The school inducted its first freshmen class in 2006, and graduated its first class from the five-year program in 2011.

The program awards not only a high school degree, but also an associate’s degree. SandHoke has consistently had a graduation rate of 95 percent or better ever since its first class graduated nine years ago, Principal Colleen Pegram said.

Also beginning in 2006, the schools partnered with the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) to guide the district with implementing the High Schools That Work model. The model supported implementing a Teacher Literacy Academy that focused on developing students’ literacy from pre-kindergarten through their senior year.

“By implementing a focus on literacy, all teachers gained an understanding of their need to be literacy teachers across curricula. It expanded an understanding that literacy was not just an instructional practice in English classes but a major part of facilitating learning in every course,” the school system said in a statement.

The district also added Math 1 to the eighth grade curriculum, accelerating the mathematics course of study to help more students complete the four high school math credits required by the state.

“This means every student has the opportunity to enter high school with one graduation credit completed,” officials said.

The evening school at Hoke High is another program meant to help some students who otherwise might have dropped out. Last year, 22 students participated and 13 graduated after attending the more flexible, self-directed evening classes offered through the evening school.

While the evening school isn’t the right option for all students and attendees must meet certain requirements to qualify, the program has been “very successful at the high school,” Register said. Even more than helping some students stay in school, the evening school also sends a message about education in general, Baldwin said.

“It sets the tone for the community that education is important, education is valued for everyone in Hoke County,” the principal said.

Emphasizing and adding to the Career and Technical Education programs was also a major effort at the high school. “A dynamic shift” in the economy over the last 14 years meant education needed to change to keep up with students’ needs to help them succeed.

The school district expanded its partnership with Sandhills Community College to help bring more career-focused training opportunities to Hoke’s youth. Today the CTE program offers firefighting, EMT, certified medical administrative assistant, plumbing, HVAC, certified production technician, pharmacy technician, EKG technician, electrical and barbering programs, among others.

Other strategies that helped improve the graduation rate are the HCS Transition Center, which supports migrant students and those who learn English as a second language. The program provides access to translators for support in learning, and tutorial services for students who face a language barrier.

Officials also credited the “Multi-Tiered System of Support,” or MTSS, with reducing the number of student suspensions and expulsions. The MTSS additionally supports alternative programs that help provide a smaller learning environment to help students continue their education.

Virus challenges
Looking to the future, some school administrators are concerned about how the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic could impact students’ graduation success over the next few years.

While seniors are so close to being finished that they’ll likely push on through, and freshmen will have time to catch up, both Baldwin and Pegram said they’re concerned for the sophomores and juniors.

“I am concerned about it and I’m concerned for SandHoke. 100 percent, that was last year, what about this year? So I’m aggressively pursing those students,” Pegram said.

The safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also mean teachers and administrators aren’t seeing some students in person on a daily basis as they usually would. Pegram noted being concerned about the socio-economic impact the pandemic is having on some families: older children being left to take care of younger ones while their parents are at work, and trying to help their siblings with their schoolwork at the same time they’re responsible for their own. Some teens may have to work because their parent has lost work due to the pandemic.

“The level of frustration builds, and I’m worried about (them),” Baldwin said

The local schools aren’t the only ones facing such challenges. Many districts across the state and the nation are grappling with similar concerns.

In looking to the future, Hoke County Schools is “determined” to continue pursing the goal of getting every student to high school graduation, the district said in a statement.

“There are so many diverse strategies that HCS has implemented throughout the years to support the graduation of all students.  HCS is determined to reach its priority that every student will graduate from high school prepared for work, higher education and citizenship,” officials said.




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