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PROPEL group talks strategy
Ideas aired for lifting grad rate
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Forsyth County News


Wednesday was a big day for a group of business, community and education leaders who have been working together to craft ways to raise the local high school graduation rate.

During a lunch meeting for PROPEL, or Pathways for Reaching Opportunities in Preparing for Excellence in Life, action teams shared their recommendations for how to improve educational opportunities for the 10 percent of Forsyth students who are not graduating.

In total, the nine teams presented 89 possible solutions. They focused, among other areas, on careers, counseling, early learning, technology and communications.

“The seeds that are being planted are huge,” Superintendent Buster Evans told the teams. “There will be students who will cross across the stages to receive their diploma in years to come because of the work of this group of people.”

The action teams worked with similar-sized school systems in Colorado, Maryland, Virginia and Texas to learn about programs they’re using that have or haven't worked.

Through the research stage, and as PROPEL ideas are put in place, the systems will serve as benchmarks.

Among the solutions created by action teams were to engage students through more than academic measures, to imbed professional learning into the school day, and to develop a career academy aligned with technical and four-year colleges.

Research, as well as the four benchmark school systems, have shown success in the third grade is an indicator of future progress, said Susan Darlington, chairwoman of the programs and interventions team.

Her group recommended more than a dozen solutions, including one to shift the graduation focus to the elementary school level, and not just middle and high schools.

“We see those students dropping out in high school, so we start focusing on them in high school,” she said. “But we need to start back tracking and focusing in elementary school.”

While it won’t have an impact on actual student achievement, another recommendation was made to publicly explain the new state-mandated calculation for graduation rates.

The current, or lever, method just counts the number of dropouts reported.

Under the new cohort system, which will take effect in the upcoming school year, a group of students who enter the ninth grade at the same time will be calculated together.

While the new system more accurately follows individual students, the calculated graduation rates are expected to slip because of the change in method.

North Carolina dropped 10 percent when it switched to the cohort system, while Mississippi saw a drop of nearly 20 percent.

Forsyth County News Publisher John Hall, who serves on an action team, said the new method needs to be communicated clearly by PROPEL “or it’s going to look like we’re moving backward, while we likely will be moving forward.”

In the next week or two, the recommendations will be tweaked and a final draft will be presented to the county school board June 9.

South Forsyth High School Principal Jason Branch, who helped launch the PROPEL initiative, said the plan will start to fall into place after the board has been briefed.

“We want to take these recommendations and look at the creation of a timeline of implementation,” he said. “Some recommendations may come into play, others we may have to look at and say this might be for another time or place.”

Implementation of at least some of the recommendations is slated to begin July 1, in preparation for the new school year in August.

“Once we take off, we will truly propel,” Evans said.