GREENFIELD — Hanging on the wall in Harold Olin’s office are six goals he hopes to meet.
The Greenfield-Central superintendent sees them every day — a reminder of what he wants Greenfield schools to accomplish during his tenure. At the top of the list: reach a 90 percent graduation rate.
Greenfield-Central High School’s graduation rate has consistently fallen below the state average. This month, educators were dismayed to learn that in 2015, the school couldn’t buck the trend.
The district narrowly missed the benchmark, according to data released recently from the Indiana Department of Education. Last year, the state graduation average was 88.9 percent; at Greenfield-Central, 88.2 percent of seniors graduated with the class of 2015.
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Countywide, districts fared better. Hancock County had an overall 93 percent graduation rate last year, when 890 students crossed the commencement stage. Mt. Vernon, New Palestine and Eastern Hancock high schools ranked above the state average of 88.9 percent.New Palestine High School had the county’s highest rate, with 97.2 percent of students graduating. Eastern Hancock followed with 95.7 percent compared with Mt. Vernon’s 95 percent.During the past nine school years, Greenfield-Central’s graduation rate has been lower than the state average eight times. It’s often the lowest in the county, as well.
For Olin and other Greenfield-Central educators, the numbers are disheartening.
Educators point to the school’s transient population — many students moving in and out of the district — as one factor that contributes to lower grad rates. In addition, it is one of the county’s most poverty-stricken schools, with about one out of every four students receiving free or reduced-price lunch.
But school officials said they aren’t looking to make excuses. They’re looking for results.
In recent years, Greenfield-Central has introduced a handful of new programs to aid students at risk of dropping out or falling behind their peers — and they hope more help is coming.Educators have talked in recent months about establishing an alternative school, where students can attend school in the evening if their daytime schedule interferes with learning.Such an arrangement would complement the special accommodations Greenfield-Central is already making for students who struggle.
The school’s Cougar Café lounge offers tutoring for students who need extra help with school work and online courses to recover credits from failed or missed classes.
The district also has graduation coaches who work one on one with at-risk students, educating them about the importance of finishing high school and encouraging them along the way.
Students also are able to take some courses online if they find they struggle in the classroom environment or experience other hardships that make attending school difficult.
Freshmen forum gives a few dozen freshmen the opportunity to learn in a different way than their peers. Rather than sticking to the traditional block schedule, students enrolled in the program spend twice as much time learning math, English, social studies and science.
During the program, students and teachers spend a lot of time talking about long-term goals, said geography teacher Sarah Ketchum. Helping those students determine what they want their futures to look like helps keep students focused and encourages them to stay on track to graduate, she said.
Their goals vary; some want to go on to college and beyond, while others seek a trade school. Whatever the goal, teachers said the first stepping stone is the same: commencement.
Show of support
Teachers and administrators are constantly thinking of ways to offer the support students need to be successful, said guidance director Kim Kile.For many students, earning a diploma isn’t easy. Some have difficult home lives, don’t learn well in a traditional classroom or they battle illness, all factors that can set them behind.So when a student goes to a guidance counselor to discuss dropping out or seeking their Indiana High School Equivalency Diploma, counselors offer alternatives.
Students have options; if they can’t be at school for a full day, they can take some courses online. Some students finish courses exclusively online. The goal is to ensure those students receive at least a Core 40 diploma, Kile said.
“The question we ask is, ‘How do we take your situation and fit a high school diploma in it,’” Kile said. “We’re fighting for everyone. We need to encourage them and get behind them.”
The formula to calculate graduation rates is complicated. The freshman class from four years ago represents a “cohort,” and schools subtract students from that class who transfer out of their district; add those who come in; and eliminate those who leave the school for home school or an online academy.
Of the 356 students who made up the Greenfield-Central class of 2015 when they started high school in 2011, 314 graduated. Eight of those students are still in school, 10 students received an equivalency degree or a special education certificate, and 24 dropped out, department of education data shows.
The number of students who dropped out in 2015 decreased by 50 percent when compared with 2007, when 48 students dropped out.
The gradual uptick in the number of students making it to commencement encourages educators that the intervention and prevention programs in place are working, said principal Steve Bryant.
“We’re on the cusp,” Bryant said. “We’re trying to get over that hump, but 90 isn’t it. We won’t stop there.”
Numbers recently released by the Indiana Department of Education show 890 Hancock County students graduated in 2015. Here’s a look at the number of graduates at each high school:
Greenfield-Central: 314 graduates of 356
New Palestine: 243 graduates of 250
Mt. Vernon: 245 graduates of 258
Eastern Hancock: 88 graduates of 92