A goal of getting 90 percent of students in Jasper and Beaufort counties to graduate from high school on time by 2020 is ambitious, but necessary. Our community and our economy depend on doing better than we have.
But it won't be easy, and it can't start in high school.
A refresher on where we stand today might be helpful. The Beaufort County district's 2011 on-time graduation rate was 69.9 percent, compared with 61.8 percent in 2010, according to its annual report card. Battery Creek High reported a 64 percent graduation rate in 2011, compared with 54.2 percent in 2010; Beaufort High, 71.1 percent, compared with 64.9 percent; Bluffton High 70.4 percent, compared with 63.4 percent; and Hilton Head Island High, 73.7 percent, compared with 63.4 percent.
In Jasper County, the district's 2011 on-time graduation rate was 72.9 percent, compared with 65.7 percent in 2010, according to its annual report card. Hardeeville Middle/High School reported a 69.5 percent graduation rate in 2011, compared with 57.8 percent in 2010; Ridgeland Middle/High School reported a 76.5 percent graduation rate in 2011, compared with 71.8 percent in 2010.
The state graduation rate in 2011 was 71 percent. Nationally, 75 percent of students graduate on time.
Experts agree that starting early is the key and staying on top of child's performance particularly through ninth grade is critical. Keeping students on track from day one is important to their completing high school on time; the farther they fall behind, the more likely they are to give up.
Researchers say kids drop hints along the way that they're in trouble; adults need to pay attention and react appropriately.
The Everyone Graduates Center found that more than 50 percent of dropouts in Philadelphia could be identified in eighth grade by looking at three factors: failing math in eighth grade; failing English in eighth grade; and attending school less than 80 percent of the time. Course performance and attendance during the first year of high school also are powerful predictors, the group says.
This summer, the Beaufort County district announced a new middle school initiative aimed at helping struggling students get back on track academically.
But the work starts even earlier.
United Way of the Lowcountry has set a goal of making sure 80 percent of students in Beaufort and Jasper counties are reading at grade level when they enter the fourth grade. The group wants to recruit 600 volunteer mentors, tutors and readers.
Identifying the students most at risk might be data-driven, but individual attention and motivation will be key to making that 90 percent graduation rate a reality.