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Graduation rates up here, across state

POSTED: December 11, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Chris Teel refused to be another statistic.
The Bradwell Institute graduate sought tutoring help and took the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT) more than 10 times. Teel, 20, is an example of the Liberty County School System’s dedication to increasing the graduation rate while decreasing the dropout rate.
Teel was a special-needs student at Bradwell Institute who struggled to pass the required GHSGT, but his teachers and principal, as part of the school and state’s focus on improving graduation numbers, wouldn’t let him give up and spent countless hours tutoring and helping him.
“They had me take practice tests over and over again,” said Teel, who indicated the hardest part of the GHSGT was the writing portion. “I worked real hard.”
Teel’s experience is indicative of a trend sweeping Bradwell, Liberty County High School and the state. Gov. Sonny Perdue recently announced Georgia’s graduation rate has risen steadily thanks in part to multiple statewide programs, including the placement of 398 graduation coaches in state high schools.
“Our graduation coaches are doing outstanding work serving at-risk students, developing individual graduation plans and following through to encourage potential dropouts to stay in school,” said Perdue in a press release. “Seeing more students graduate and fewer drop out strengthens Georgia’s ability to provide an educated work force and compete in the global markets.”
Bradwell graduate coach Lea Bailey, whose job involves monitoring, identifying, helping and tutoring students at-risk students, said she has worked hard to make an impact on the school’s graduation rate, which, according to principal Vicki Albritton, rose from 67 percent in 2007 to 73.5 percent this year. According to the state’s Adequate Yearly Progress reports, the county’s overall graduation rate rose from 69.4 percent in 2007 to 73.3 percent in 2008.
“We have definitely seen an increase in the graduation rate,” Bailey said. “It’s always a work in progress.”
But it’s not just graduation coaches who are dedicated to this goal. Albritton said this specific issue tops her list of priorities.
“I always encourage students to be tenacious tigers,” she said.
And the payoff for students like Teel has been life-changing.
“I was extremely happy,” he said of passing the GHSGT.
Teel, who is employed at Goodwill Industries, said his mother was the one who instilled in him a sense of dedication, but he also said his teachers helped him and took a special interest in seeing him graduate.
“They were also extremely happy,” Teel said.
Like Teel, Naomi Hendrix, 21, struggled with graduation requirements. It took her two years to pass the math portion of the GHSGT. Now, after obtaining her diploma, she uses her sense of determination to further her education and encourage other struggling students.
"You can do it. You can make it if you keep going," Hendrix tells other students. "I just want people to know they can do it.”
Although the schools already have experienced significant improvement in their numbers (with a rate that has, according to the governor’s release, increased by 12 points since 2002), Bailey, Albritton and  state education officials all say there is still much work to be done. The educators and officials said they will keep this issue on the forefront.
“Reducing Georgia's dropout rate and increasing the graduation rate is our top priority, and it’s clear we’re making great progress,” State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox said in a press release.
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