Earlier this week, the Georgia Department of Education released graduation rates for the 2015-2016 school-year. In moments like this, we pause and wait with bated breath because in no uncertain terms, high schools are primarily measured by their ability to produce students who are either college or career ready. To meet that standard, they first must graduate.
Consider that in 2012 and 2013, respectively, graduation rates at Banneker High School fell to historic lows – producing exiting classes that saw only 41% of students complete high school requirements within 4 years. Those days are gone. Since my arrival, and since Fulton County Schools has intensified their support for our improvement efforts, we have moved beyond the abject failure of year’s past. By no means, though, has our performance ascended to a place where we are satisfied with our results – but slowly and surely, we are progressing, and the palpable change underway is reflected in our most recent results.
Today, Banneker’s graduation rate is 68.3%, representing a 6% increase from the previous year, and a whopping 27% increase from just 5 years ago. Perhaps most important is that these results reflect the highest percentage of increase among all 16 traditional, comprehensive high schools within Fulton County Schools.
More Work To Do
Again, we certainly have lots more work to do considering that far too many of our students still do not complete high school. Their failure, however, is not fully their own. Students, we’ve found, are not graduating because of a number of reasons – and my team and I have begun to question whether high schools are appropriately designed, both operationally and programmatically, to meet the needs of all students.
The Path Forward
At Banneker, we are working to identify the most significant impediments to student success. What we have discovered is that our students are managing issues that have nothing to do with their day-to-day school experience, but everything to do with why they fail. Significant health challenges, dysfunctional home lives, mental illness, substantial academic deficiencies, and the lack of proper adult support all represent a subset of issues that our students deal with. They also represent a call to action for the modern, 21st century high school. The truth of the matter is that traditional model of secondary schools no longer serves all kids well, and consequently, we are bent on being relentlessly innovative in our approach to educating students. This strategy ensures that students have rich and consistently meaningful learning experiences, but it also guarantees support for them in ways that run counter to the traditional functions of most secondary schools.
Notwithstanding these reflections, the improved graduation rate that we’ve produced at Banneker is in no small measure the result of some incredible work performed by a collection of incredible people, but I remain convinced that a student’s ability to navigate the rigor and diet of the high school curricula is as much about their ability to negotiate the challenges of life as anything else. At Banneker, we’ve got a plan for both – but for now, we pause to celebrate our good news – an increased graduate rate and the promise that our results hold for future success.