Teachers, students and counselors in the Savannah Chatham County public school system have faced disrupted learning experiences since March 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. By developing a new action plan, they came out with a 90% graduation rate for the 2020-21 class. This is an achievement that school officials are proud of.
“So like everyone else, we were concerned,” said Bernadette Ball-Oliver, assistant superintendent of high schools. “I think what helped was that when we started to gradually come back, our counselors and counselors were given the opportunity to set up meetings with these students.”
What it takes to graduate
Following a seven-year trend, the school district saw its graduation rate increase from 87.1% to 90%. To graduate, students need 24 credits and must maintain a grade of 70 or higher in required courses, including four years of math, English, science, and social studies. Students receive four credits each in English, Mathematics, and Science. For social studies, students earn three credits and a half credit each in US government and economics.
In addition to these basic requirements, students also need world language credits according to their particular pathways. On the way to college, students are required to take two credits in a world language, although three are recommended. Students in the Professional, Technical and Agricultural Education Path (CTAE) need one credit in a world language, but two are recommended.
Students on the CTAE track must take four additional CTAE courses and 3 elective courses. College students need six elective courses.
All students are required to take physical education and health classes, both of which are half credit. In addition to coursework, students must complete at least 20 hours of community service by the end of their junior year in order to graduate.
Among the 10 high schools and 11 programs in the district, eight high schools recorded graduation rates of nearly 90% or more. The numbers shown here are the size of the senior class / number of graduates / percentage of graduates:
- Savannah High Early College: 45/45 100%
- Woodville-Thompkins Vocational and Technical School: 162/162/100%
- Academy of Savannah Arts: 231/233 / 99.1%
- Johnson High School: 173/202 / 85.6%
- New Hampstead: 332/342 / 97.1%
- School of Liberal Studies at Savannah High: 124/134 / 92.5%
- Windsor Forest: 232/251/92%
- Jenkins: 230/254 / 90.6%
- Islands: 210/236 89%
Ball-Oliver said the biggest increase was at Savannah High in its Liberal Studies program, where graduation rates rose 7% between the 2020 and 2021 school years.
According to data from the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE), high schools in Beach and Groves have experienced declining graduation rates. The range has increased from 80.6% in the 2019-2020 school year to 73.5% in the 2020-21 school year. Groves High School saw a decline from 76.4% to 73.8% over the same period.
Ball-Oliver attributed the decreases at both schools to the impacts of the pandemic. She declined to provide more information on what affected the graduation rates at these two schools. She said the district works individually with students and graduation teams to help students graduate.
Pandemic challenges and pivots
Once the district decided to switch to virtual learning in the 2019-2020 school year, according to Ball-Oliver, the district organized graduation teams made up of teachers, mentors, administrators, social workers and counselors from each high school to meet the needs of each final year student. Ball-Oliver said the process included home visits.
Savannah Liberal Studies High School Principal Gequetta Jenkins, “and her team have worked hard to ensure that structures are in place to support these students, such as before, after school, during the school and Saturday school, ”said Ball-Oliver. “They put in place many of the same structures that you would have seen in Johnson, Windsor, Savannah Arts and Woodville.”
At Beach and Groves High Schools, graduation teams meet every two weeks. In the other high schools, the teams meet monthly. During the pandemic, schools continue to focus on the needs of students, teams assign teacher-mentors to students, perform daily checks and contact parents.
Ball-Oliver said that after the district began hosting in-person learning in August 2021, schools continued to provide support to students, including one-on-one tutoring; summer programs before and after school; and technology to help students learn.
She added that while the district offers multiple opportunities for success, parents play an important role in student progress. “Our biggest partner is also the parents and making sure they stay connected to the school and are part of the process. “
Student Withdrawals and Records Management (SWARM) also plays a role in graduation teams by locating students who might have fallen through the cracks due to frequent moves or due to homelessness or further interruptions in their studies.
During the pandemic, the goal, said Jenkins High School principal Heather Handy, was to develop a relationship with the senior class. She said the elderly were assigned to a counselor and met with them weekly to discuss notes, challenges and even make home visits.
“So there is a network here that can reach homes, but also other teachers in the school to make sure that all students meet those needs, whatever their needs are at that time,” said Handy.
Todd Perkins, a grade 10 specialist teacher and a member of the graduation team at Jenkins, said creating a structured environment for students has helped improve communication. And Grade 12 math teacher Krista Broadrick said flexibility was key and compared teaching seniors to getting them across the finish line.
“It’s kind of a push,” she said. “They are almost there.
English teacher Paul Sidney said the school had something called Warriors Way, which allowed school counselors, administrators and teachers to communicate with students during the pandemic.
Sidney said that even during the pandemic, students were still able to meet the challenges.
“I tell them the whole time you did this during a pandemic,… pat yourself on the back, you really put in the effort, you didn’t give up. And you stayed with it. So you got it. deserved, “he said.
Following:In-person graduate degrees a strong possibility at Savannah Chatham Public Schools
One of those students who crossed the finish line during a pandemic was Georgia Kestner, a 2021 Jenkins graduate who completed her final year online.
“I learned a lot of new things online, but it was sad that I couldn’t have the senior experience like most people do,” she said. “I did my entire senior year at home in my bedroom and worked online the whole year.”
Kestner said online learning was much more difficult because sometimes it was difficult to ask teachers or classmates for help.
“They were definitely on top of us to make sure everything we needed to graduate,” she said.
Another graduate Daniel Delo participated in blended learning in his senior year as it allowed him to work with a teacher and found it to be much easier than learning online.
“During school, the guidance counselors were very involved in our learning,” said Delo. “The teachers were really reaching out to the students, to check their grades, ready to help, to ask questions and to set aside time outside of normal hours to help the students catch up.”
At Jenkins High, Principal Heather Handy attributes the success of teachers, staff and students to their hard work to ensure that students can graduate. “I have a great team here and I’m really proud of the work they do every day to make sure these kids are successful.”
To see a comparison of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 graduation rates, read this article at savannahnow.com/news/.
Bianca Moorman is the educational journalist. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @biancarmoorman.
How graduation rates are calculated
Joseph Austin, executive director of accountability and evaluation, said the Savannah-Chatham County public school district receives advice from the US and Georgia departments of education. As required by federal law, state public schools use the National Standard Calculation to calculate the graduation rate: the number of students who graduate in four years divided by the total number of students who form the adjusted cohort who entered ninth grade.
Student enrollment, student transfers, students with disabilities, incarcerated students, and those who have dropped out all play a role in calculating the graduation rate, Austin said. When a student withdraws or leaves the school district to attend a school in another district, a student is excluded from the graduation calculation. But, a student who drops out and is no longer enrolled in any high school remains in the adjusted cohort.
At the school level, Handy said, when a student enters ninth grade, the students are put into a cohort and are tracked using a spreadsheet. Handy said it helps the school determine whether a student is still enrolled, transferred, or dropped out, in the past four years.
“We are required to keep documentation for those four years for this specific cohort,” she said. “We start again with the graduating cohort as ninth grade students, and then we continue until their final year. “