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Local graduation rate continues to improve

Local education leaders say they are proud that Cairo High School’s graduation rate is going in the right direction.
This week’s release of the 2016 statewide numbers shows the school’s rate rose from 83.2 percent in 2015 to 84.2 percent. The local rate is five points above the statewide average, which was 79.2 percent.
“This past year’s graduation rate is a reflection of the hard work and dedication of our students and teachers,” says Chris Lokey, principal of Cairo High School.
Improving graduation rates has been a statewide push in recent years, and Mr. Lokey says Cairo High is working hard to make sure students earn their diploma. “The first week of school, we met with the seniors and issued a ‘graduation challenge’ in which seniors committed themselves to graduating on time and with their class. Needless to say, they met the challenge. I am extremely proud of our students, teachers, administrators, and parents. I attribute our success to this winning combination,” he says.
Dr. Kermit Gilliard, superintendent of Grady County Schools, says the goal is to reach a 100 percent graduation rate here.
“Mr. Lokey and the faculty and staff at Cairo High School will continue to work toward that goal. We will continue to look at the waivers that we have available to us and make sure that we are using every opportunity that we have to benefit our students,” Gilliard says.
Two programs that are expected to help students graduate are CAFE, targeted at students who struggle with math, and a proposed 9th grade Academy. Through CAFE, specific students are getting additional math assistance and will be monitored frequently to keep them on track to graduate. “The proposed 9th grade Academy will benefit all 9th graders, and especially those who tend to struggle and get behind early. At the same time, it will not hold back those students who are ready for an advanced level class,” Gilliard explains. He also points to Move on When Ready as a benefit to help students graduate from both high school and college.
The beginning of the College and Career Academy is also a positive influence the superintendent says should help improve the graduation rate. “Cairo High School is on the cusp of making huge gains. The next few years I believe CHS will be transformed into the College and Career Academy envisioned by those that began the process. We are very close to ‘gathering the harvest’ from the seeds they have sown. We have many great people working very hard each day striving to make a difference in our students’ lives,” Gilliard says.
Meanwhile, the state school superintendent, Richard Woods, says he is working to push the statewide graduation rate higher than the national rate.  “As part of VISION 2020, we have a goal of exceeding the national average graduation rate by the year 2020, ensuring that more students will receive a meaningful high school diploma that prepares them for a successful and productive future,” Woods says.
Moving forward, the state superintendent says the Georgia Department of Education will be driven by VISION 2020, and will concentrate on providing high-quality service and support for schools and districts, so they’re able to offer a holistic education to each child.
In Southwest Georgia, Cairo High School’s graduation rate is competitive among schools with similar sized eligible graduating classes. Thomas County schools, which includes Thomas County Central High School and the county’s alternative high school option Bishop Hall Charter School, has one of the best rates at 86.4 percent. They are tied with Westover High, and followed by Colquitt County High with 86.2 percent, then Bainbridge High with 85.8 percent, and Crisp County High with 84.9 percent.
Schools that experienced drops in their graduation rates from 2015 to 2016 include Colquitt County and Westover. The Packers’ graduation rate dropped 7 percent this year from 93.2 percent in 2015; Westover’s rate dropped more than 6 percent from its 2015 rate of 92.6 percent.
Besides Cairo, other similar sized schools in our area that experienced improvements in their graduation rates include Crisp County where the rate went up 6.1 percent from 78.8 percent in 2015. Bainbridge’s rate improved nearly 4 percent from 82 percent in 2015; and Thomas County’s combined rate improved .5 percent.
This is the sixth year Georgia has calculated the graduation rate using the adjusted cohort rate, which is now required by the U.S. Department of Education. The four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate defines the cohort based on when a student first becomes a freshman; it is calculated using the number of students who graduate within four years and includes adjustments for student transfers. In contrast, Georgia’s former graduation rate calculation defined the cohort upon graduation, which may have included students who took more than four years to graduate.
All states now calculate the graduation rate using the same formula, but each state still sets its own requirements for students to earn a diploma. Georgia still has some of the highest requirements in the nation for students to graduate with a regular diploma.

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