Community involvement and graduation rates

As part of the Center’s ongoing series of public education success stories, we’ve profiled the efforts of  the Clarksville Montgomery County (TN) School System to raise their students’ graduation rates with help from the community.

In 2004, 76 percent of Clarksville Montgomery County students earned a diploma within four years of starting high school. While that was better than the state average of 66.1 percent, school administrators still felt the number was unacceptably low, so they set out to achieve a 100 percent graduation rate by 2015.

Initially, the district focused on using various types of academic intervention programs for at-risk students, and after only four years, the grad rate had risen to 88 percent. An impressive gain no doubt, but still short of the goal. That’s when the district launched the 100% Graduation Project, an initiative designed to engage businesses, churches, and nonprofit groups in order to create a community-wide culture to help improve the grad rate.

While some were skeptical at first, community leaders and business owners soon started to join the Project, and the school district now has about 110 community partners. These partners are involved in various ways, from donating items for school events, to setting up computer labs in their own spaces for students to use. According to School Board Chairman George Giles, the initiative “brought in a lot of people who didn’t have children, who in some cases felt like they didn’t have a stake [in the local schools]. But when they looked around at their employees who are teenagers or looked at their church, they realized they could make a difference with these children.”

Getting 100 percent of high school students to graduate is an lofty goal for any community, but not one that the people of Clarksville Montgomery County were too intimidated to try to reach. How have they done so far? Last year, graduation reached 93.5 percent. For more information on the 100% Graduation Project, as well as to see lessons that can be applied to your community, please read our school story. –Ashwini Yelamanchili

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