The Forsyth County school board received an update Thursday on the progress of a new program designed to raise local high school graduation rates.
PROPEL, or Pathways for Reaching Oppor-tunities in Preparing for Excellence in Life, is a joint effort of the school system and the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.
“We did PROPEL because it sounds like forward movement and we do want to propel our students in Forsyth County into the work world, to be good citizens and to keep our community thriving,” said Cindy Salloum, the district’s director of secondary education.
Members of the program’s steering committee told the board about drafting an action plan and the success of a September educational summit, which involved more than 140 participants.
Committee member John Hall said the summit offered “lots of really good speakers talking about this issue.”
“It was unbelievable how the community came out to support this,” he said. “As we roll into November, we want to begin communicating the PROPEL plan to all the stakeholders.”
Tracy Moon, chamber chairman and committee member, talked about some of what’s needed to improve graduation rates.
Some areas include communicating with students about the importance of education on their future and showing them the community cares about their long-term success.
Also key will be providing technical education opportunities for those students not looking to attend a four-year college.
“We need to get many groups — social service groups, community groups, parents — involved early on so that we can create a situation where the students can win,” he said. “We need to focus on how competitive we are.
“If we want to be the best we can be, we need to set our sights high and benchmark against the best school systems in the nation.”
Comparing Forsyth to school systems outside the state is exactly what board member Mike Dudgeon said is missing.
“I’ve been rattling that statement for a long time here on the board and I don’t think we’ve done as much as we could in that area, so I think that actually is the key,” Dudgeon said. “I think it’s a great idea.”
Board Chairwoman Ann Crow said she’s “anxious to see action plans.”
“Just to see what we need to do for the next step would be very helpful,” she said.
Committee member and South Forsyth High School Principal Jason Branch said work on the initiative began in February, but “this is just the beginning.”
“We have done some research, we’ve done some surveys,” Branch said.
“We’ve figured out some goals and strategies and now the real work begins — the work with teachers and the students and ... putting our goals and strategies and plans into action.”
PROPEL has been following the mind-set of going from good to great. With a current graduation rate of about 90 percent,
Forsyth County is among the state’s leaders in that category.
But it’s the 10 percent who don’t graduate that is holding students and the community back from greatness, Salloum said.
“Increasing our graduation rate just wasn’t good enough,” she said. “We want to make certain that all our students are graduating.
“We look forward to our success, because we know that there will be more children graduating than ever before just simply because we’re focusing on it, and we’ve got that excitement in the community.”