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Graduation rates improving

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In most cases, local students are earning high school degrees and graduating on time at rates better than the state average.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE —  Twin County high school graduation rates defy the stereotype that rural students are more likely drop out before completing their education.

The high schools in Carroll, Galax and Grayson all topped the statewide average of students that either graduate on time or earn some other certification, like a GED.
That means two significant things to Mark Burnette, Carroll's director of secondary education: local schools systems have worked with students to get them through to graduation or some equivalent; and parents see the need for an education.
Carroll High School saw 89.8 percent of its students graduate on time, as compared to the state average of 85.5 percent, for example, Burnette quoted figures from a state Department of Education report.
When you add in those who earned GEDs or special certificates, Carroll's numbers improve to a 92 percent completion rate, he added. For Virginia, the completion rate is 89.1.
Further, Carroll kept its drop-out rate down to 7 percent, below the state average of 8.2 percent.
Galax High School had an on-time graduation rate of 86.6 percent and a completion rate of 87.8, while Grayson County High School had an 88.3 on-time graduation rate and a 90.9 completion rate, according to the state report.
Different factors contribute to the improvement in this measure of educational success for Carroll, Burnette explained. One is the fact that school divisions and the state are better able to track students who, for whatever reason, have to leave one school system but finish up in another place.
But another reason is Carroll educators have implemented programs to keep students coming to schools and to help students overcome potential barriers to getting their education.
Carroll has a drop-out prevention program in which the schools partner with the Department of Social Services, the health department, juvenile court services, Mount Rogers Mental Health, family preservation, school social workers, guidance counselors  and others to work on students' needs.
That also might include transportation and medical care, Burnette said.
Educators meet with students to talk about what's going on and what they can do to help. "We had a lot of students who wouldn't have graduated without that."
There will continue to be transient families who will somehow fall through the state's efforts to track their children's education, Burnette said. A request for student transcripts by another school division is one giveaway that a youth who moved will continue their education at their new place of residence.
He could remember one student in a transient family who lived in Carroll and attended school here for just a few weeks before moving on. None of the telltale paperwork came in for her after that.
"Since we served her for a month and a half, we're responsible for her," Burnette said.
Carroll schools administrators set a goal to improve this educational measure, and they're seeing success, Burnette said. "Our goal was to reach 90 percent on-time graduation rates within five years with our drop-out prevention team."
The school system is right on the cusp of making that goal and within only two years, he added.
"I think it shows the rural localities in this area are providing more options to kids than ever before and giving them reasons to stay in school," Burnette reacted.
These improvements also reflect that parents know that their children need to graduate, he added. They know that dropping out greatly reduces a youth's chances to find a decent paying job.
This recently revamped attendance tracking system is a good thing because it caused educators to look at graduation rates closer, Burnette said. And they've taken steps to address the students' needs, too.
"The success of Virginia schools in raising graduation rates is the result of a sustained student-by-student effort focused on the young people in our schools who are most challenged by the commonwealth's minimum diploma standards and who are the most susceptible to the pressures that cause students to drop out," Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said in a news release accompanying the report.
"I congratulate the thousands of teachers, counselors and administrators whose dedication to the students behind the statistics is making this progress possible."