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HCHS graduation rate among state’s worst

AHOSKIE – The news wasn’t good for Hertford County High School.

When the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction recently released its first, four-year cohort graduation rate recently, Hertford County Public Schools was one of five school districts that failed to graduate at least 50 percent of its students.

The NCDPI study takes into account only students that graduated in four years.

According to the report, only 48.9 percent of Hertford County High School’s students graduated n 153 of the 248 that began as freshmen. That compared to 63.5 percent of students at Bertie High School, 69 percent at Gates County High School, 65.9 percent at Northampton-West and 58.3 percent at Northampton-East.

The other four school districts below the 50 percent mark were Lexington City Schools, Vance County Schools, Pasquotank County Schools and Hoke County Schools.

While the school district administrators addressed the situation, neither Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Basham nor HCHS Principal Jerry Simmons were in place during the years the numbers were collected.

Both Dr. Basham and Simmons emphasized the recent addition of the Freshman Academy.

“We have instituted a Freshman Academy this semester at Hertford County High School and this will continue with future classes,” Dr. Basham said. “This academy keeps all freshmen in one location taking all of their core subjects like math, English, science, etc.

“This helps make the transition from middle school to a high school setting,” he continued. “Studies have shown that most students are ‘lost,’ shall we say, during their freshman year. The academy, helping students make that transition, will keep students in school.”

Simmons agreed that many of the students were ‘lost’ during their freshman and sophomore years. He accredited the loss to setbacks in grades that could be helped through the Freshman Academy and a credit recovery program.

“Students get frustrated if, for instance, they don’t pass English I,” he said. “Even if they pass all of their other subjects, they cannot be classified as a sophomore. We want to put in a credit recovery program so students can move on. We know it’s critical.

“If we can help them make it from their freshman to sophomore year, typically they can make it,” he added.

Because of his concern about losing freshman, Simmons has instituted a three-week progress report to help find out earlier if students are struggling.

“We can’t wait to know what is going on and to catch them up and help them be successful,” Simmons said. “Since the state has changed how they measure graduation by looking at cohort groups from freshman to seniors, it becomes critical to make sure students are moving from one class to the next.”

Simmons said the credit recovery program was still being studied because of the many ways it could be implemented. He stressed that he wanted a program that would help students earn back the credit, not one that would give them anything.

“We are in the process of putting a credit recovery plan in place,” he said. “We want to make sure the students know even though they may have made a mistake, the still have the opportunity to catch up.

“Every child is important,” he added. “We don’t take any of them for granted.”

Dr. Basham also talked about a PEP (Personalized Education Plan) for groups of students at the school.

“This personalized plan focuses on exactly what objectives a student needs to work on and identifies strategies or ways to best teach that student,” he said.

Simmons said he was concerned about the past, but more concerned about the students at HCHS at this moment.

“We’ve analyzed the data,” he said. “We’re certainly not proud of it. We have to work hard to close the gap with surrounding counties, but more importantly with the state average.

“I say all the time, ‘if not now, when’,” he said. “We can keep talking about could have, should have, but the time is now to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students.”

The state average for the four-year cohort graduation rate was 68 percent.

“The graduation rate, as it is calculated, does not take into account the student who graduates in five years or the one who has had to leave school due to some circumstance, but has gone to the community college to get a GED (General Equivalency Diploma),” Dr. Basham said. “If these students were counted in the graduation rate, the rate would be higher.”