More students have graduated from Hamilton County Schools each year since 2004, despite relatively flat enrollment, according to numbers released Thursday by the school system.
In 2008, 2,483 students earned a regular diploma, up from 2,295 the previous year. Since the district began tracking in 2004 the number of diplomas awarded, the number has increased by about 28 percent.
“This is really good news for the kids who graduated and for the community,” said Dan Challener, president of the Public Education Foundation, which jointly released Thursday’s report.
The report refers to regular diplomas earned either in four years or more, but not to special education diplomas, GEDs or diplomas issued to students who did not pass Gateway exams, officials said.
HAMILTON COUNTY DIPLOMAS
* 2004: 1,941
* 2005: 1,971
* 2006: 2,151
* 2007: 2,295
* 2008: 2,483
Source: Hamilton County Department of Education
The number also is different than the four-year graduation rate the state reports in its Report Card, which is released in early November. Hamilton County’s graduation rate, which is brought down by factors such as dropouts, special education diplomas, GEDs and late graduates was 75.1 percent in 2007.
It is important to celebrate the students graduating from Hamilton County Schools, since the state does not report on the actual diploma count, Mr. Challener said.
“It’s an important number,” Mr. Challener said. “This data gets lost and it’s an important story. More and more students are completing high school.”
At Central High School, Principal Finley King said individual meetings between guidance counselors and students to plot out progress toward graduation is the biggest reason the school’s diploma count rose 19.4 percent, from 170 in 2007 to 203 in 2008.
“Every year we do a review of the credits they’ve earned and do a schedule for the next year,” Mr. King said. “There’s the accountability factor that makes a big difference.”
Although the school system has done “everything (it) could to get the best numbers” for the diploma count, the way administrators collect data has changed to become more accurate since 2004, said Dr. Kirk Kelly, director of accountability and testing for the district.
As a result, in 2008 some students initially thought to be dropouts or late graduates were found to be on-time completers, Dr. Kelly said. In earlier years, those students may have fallen through the cracks due to the different tracking system, he said.
“It’s fair to say we have a greater focus now on trying to make sure students don’t drop out,” Dr. Kelly said. “We have better record-keeping and better attempts to keep kids in school.”
Despite any potential reporting errors, there were nearly 500 fewer high school students in 2008 than there were in 2004, yet still more students earned a diploma, which Mr. Challener said is commendable.
He pointed to measures such as ninth-grade and career academies, credit recovery programs and the creation of the county’s adult high school as reasons for the district’s success. Many of these efforts were part of the school system’s high school reform, funded with $8 million from the Carnegie Corp. and $6 million from PEF.
“They key issue for our community, for economic development, is a better trained work force,” Mr. Challener said. “It’s about doing a better job in our schools.”
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...