Lee graduation rate exceeds state average

Aug. 09, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

Lee County students graduate high school, on average, at a higher rate than their peers around the state — according to recently released data.

The district announced Thursday that its four-year graduation rate for the class of 2013 was 86.4 percent. The figure is higher than both the statewide rate of 82.5 percent and the district’s rate from the year before, which was 84 percent. In all, according to a press release from Lee County Schools, the graduation rate has increased by 23 percent points since the 2006-2007 school year.“I’m just delighted, as everybody should be, with the teachers and the students,” said Lynn Smith, chairman of the Lee County Board of Education. “Everybody is working really hard.”

The state tracks a number of subgroups in addition to the aggregate, including counting the specific graduation rate for students of various racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds and those with disabilities. Several of those scores dropped from last year, but all were above the state average, according to the district’s press release.

In addition to the overall rate, a higher percentage of white and Hispanic students graduated than last year. The rates for black students, as well as disabled students and economically disadvantaged students, all decreased yet remained higher than the state total.

Lee Early College had the highest graduation rate of the three local public schools, at 93.1 percent. Lee County High School had a 91.2 percent graduation rate — beating the 90 percent benchmark former Principal Greg Batten said he hoped to hit in his last year in charge — and Southern Lee High School’s rate was 85.3 percent.

Drop-out rates, in which more variables are accounted for than the four-year graduation rates, reportedly won’t be available until the fall.

“We are extremely proud of our continued improvement in the graduation rate,” Superintendent Andy Bryan was quoted as saying in the press release. “As a district, our goal is for every student to graduate. Our teachers, staff, tutors, volunteers and administrators work tirelessly in the classroom every day to ensure student success. And with the help of community organizations and the faith-based community, we have enhanced the safety net of support that makes graduation an accessible goal for all students.”

These latest numbers are for this past year, which was former Superintendent Jeff Moss’s last year at the helm. During that period, and for multiple years prior, Bryan served as the district’s second-highest administrator and oversaw all instructional issues.

Smith said he thinks Bryan has all the skills and expertise needed to help the district’s rate continue to rise. However, Smith said, he’s worried about the effect that the new state budget, which reduced funding for textbooks and classroom materials in addition to cutting teacher positions, will have on the graduation rate.

As for whether the graduation rate will continue to rise, Smith said, “I certainly hope so, but looking at the budget restraints were facing, I don’t know. I think it will have a direct impact.”

Smith said that even with teachers facing more difficult times ahead, the attitude is right — and the proper attitude can go a long way in the fight to convince kids to stay in, and succeed in, school.

“I hate that it sounds trite sometimes, but I think the most important thing we’ve done is increase expectations,” he said. “When you expect more of someone, they will perform better.”

By the numbers, one of the district’s biggest successes lately has been with disabled students. Their graduation rate did decrease this year from 75 percent to 72 percent, but it was higher than the state’s total of 48.9 percent. It’s also a contrast from as late as 2006, when fewer than 20 percent of disabled students in Lee County graduated. In a story last September chronicling that rapid rise, administrators echoed Smith’s words of higher expectations.

“From the top of our administration to throughout the whole district, we let people know these students are not just in the exceptional students program,” Anne Sessoms, the district’s director of exceptional education, told The Herald at the time. “They’re a part of the larger school and deserve the same treatment as everyone else.”