The Halifax County Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Eric L. Cunningham received news last week which shows its strategic plan is working.
Assistant Superintendent Tyrana Battle said that last year the system’s cohort graduation rate was the highest it had been in over a decade and this year’s data is even better.
Halifax County Schools has achieved a graduation rate of 84 percent for the 2019-2020 school year, which is 6.2 percentage points higher than last year’s rate.
This marks the highest cohort graduation rate since 2006.
LaVonne McClain, director of student information and accountability, attributes the incremental increase of on-time graduates over the past three years to the implementation of procedures to monitor students within cohorts and greater accountability. “I am proud of the strides we have made to ensure students meet graduation requirements within four years,” McClain said.
Battle said, “The school teams have worked hard to support students not only through instructional delivery, but also through academic and career counseling. Students understand the importance of graduating with a high school diploma.”
On-time graduation is defined as students graduating within four years of entering 9th grade. The Northwest Collegiate & Technical Academy graduation rate grew from 79.2 percent to 81.4 percent.
The Southeast Collegiate Prep Academy graduation rate grew from 74.7 percent to 87.5 percent which is almost equal to the state’s rate. “This is great news,” Superintendent Eric L. Cunningham said. “We are fulfilling our mission and vision by producing globally competitive students.”
Battle pointed out that the increase of 6.2 percentage points in the cohort graduation rate shows the district continues to close the gap with its graduates. “As you look at the state’s average from 2019 to 2020, there was an increase of 1.1 points, from 86.5 percent to 87.6 percent while Halifax ‘s increase went from 77.8 percent to 84 percent which is about five times greater,” she said. “The disaggregated cohort graduation rate shows that Halifax County Schools’ students with disabilities’ cohort graduation rate of 80 percent is higher than the state’s rate of 72.1 percent. Furthermore, our economically disadvantaged students are graduating at a rate of 87.8 percent compared to the state’s 82.2 percent. Halifax is making huge strides.”
Southeast and Northwest
Principal Gregory Monroe said, “Southeast's graduation rate is the result of ongoing collaboration across the district, and a testimony to the superintendent's motto that Halifax County Schools is a school system and not a system of schools. The Southeast staff and administration realized early that we could not do it alone and that we had to come up with different ways to help our scholars overcome unique challenges.”
Said Monroe: “We worked collaboratively in the building monitoring our student cohort data provided by Central Services. The student services team, which includes the school counselor, school social worker, school nurse, and school administration, met to identify our students who needed extra attention or assistance.”
Battle said, “As a proud graduate of Southeast, I am proud of the gains made by our students and staff. My goal is to build an educational system that I would be proud to enroll my own children and this is what our team has done.”
Monroe said the third prong of the efforts involved the system’s alternative learning program — the Halifax County Schools Empowerment Zone — which is led by Sharon Arrington.
The empowerment zone was designed to help at-risk students who may have fallen behind in their cohort due to academic, behavioral, or personal challenges.
To date, the HCS empowerment zone has assisted over 30 students to achieve the goal of graduation.
“Through all the combined efforts, we found a formula for success in helping our scholars achieve more,” Battle said. “I believe that our ongoing efforts are helping in changing the mindset from ‘if you graduate, to when you graduate’ from Halifax County Schools.”
Principal Steve Hunter, a graduate of Northwest, said he was elated and proud to hear the news about his alma mater. “Northwest Collegiate and Technical Academy is on the rise. We are proud to announce our four-year graduation rate is at an all-time high of 81.4 percent. This number is significant and paramount because it indicates the percentage of our students graduating is increasing each year and doing so faster than many other districts in the state of North Carolina. With more students graduating from high school, this will enable our graduates to pursue more suitable opportunities of employment as they transition into adulthood.”
Said Arrington: “I am overjoyed at the number of graduates the HCS Empowerment Zone has produced during the three years of our existence. The empowerment zone is a unique learning environment where students are given a second chance to recover course credits, improve their daily attendance and behavior which provides them an opportunity of earning their high school diploma.
“Our staff has created an environment that promotes self-respect, individual growth and responsibility that will lead to success beyond graduation. The empowerment zone provides flexibility, intensive behavioral support, self-regulation, social and emotional support, intensive instruction and remediation to help students meet the state and local requirements.”
Last school year the Halifax County Schools Empowerment Zone was in its third year of operation. During the 2017-2018 school year it produced its first two graduates.
At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, there were a total of 11 graduates. “During COVID-19 the most challenging year, there were a total of 18 graduates for the 2019-2020 school year. As the coordinator, I am so proud and grateful to announce that we have produced a total number of 31 high school graduates over three years.”
Arrington thanked the parents of the HCS Empowerment Zone graduates for entrusting their children to the staff as well as “believing in the quality service and benefits we provide for each individual student. I am a firm believer if our students are successful, then we are successful.”
She said, “Our job is not successfully completed until we have made a positive impact on our students’ lives. Just as Superintendent Cunningham witnessed the success of the HCS Empowerment Zone which is an alternative to traditional school, he raised the bar or challenged me each year for greater results. I could not be prouder to say together the HCS Empowerment Zone Staff exceeded those challenges.”
Arrington said the journey has been challenging and rewarding. “Moving from two to 31 graduates over a three-year period to assist both Northwest Halifax Collegiate and Technical Academy and Southeast Halifax Collegiate Preparatory Academy schools with improving their overall graduation rate has been both gratifying and rewarding.”
The HCS Empowerment Zone has contributed a total of 18 graduates to Southeast Halifax Collegiate Preparatory Academy and a total of 13 to Northwest Halifax Collegiate Technical Academy’s graduation rates. “I look forward to continuing the collaboration and partnerships with both high schools to continue moving the graduation rate at its all time high in 15 years.”
Said Cunningham: “As we continue to close the graduation gap, everyone plays a role in the success of our graduates. It starts as students move from elementary, middle to high school. We are stronger together.”