State Education Department figures released Wednesday show six of the county's 11 high schools saw gains in their 2013 graduation rates compared to 2012. The improvement helped boost the state average graduation rate last year to 80 percent, the highest ever recorded.
Of all the area schools, Weaver High and Ohatchee High showed the greatest improvement from 2012. In 2013, Weaver graduated 80 percent of the students who’d started ninth grade four years earlier, compared to 69 percent in 2012. Ohatchee's rate increased to 88 percent in 2013 from 73 percent in 2012.
Joe Dyar, superintendent of the Calhoun County school system, said his staff worked hard in the past two years to innovate and keep students from dropping out.
"We've had more targeted professional development for high school teachers ... to better meet learners' needs," Dyar said. "We've been targeting at-risk students to better meet their needs."
Dyar said students at risk of dropping out are offered more remediation to help them learn at their own pace. Recent technology upgrades have also helped improve learning, Dyar said.
Meanwhile, White Plains High had the highest graduation rate in the county in 2013 at 94 percent, even though it dropped from 96 percent in 2012. Piedmont High had the second-highest graduation rate, 92 percent in 2013, a decrease from 94 percent in 2012.
Oxford High's graduation rate decreased to 86 percent from 90 percent between 2012 and 2013.
Anniston High's graduation rate remained unchanged at 58 percent and was the lowest among all the schools in the county.
Joan Frazier, superintendent of the Anniston school system, said the high school's graduation rate would have increased were it not for a spike in "not found students" — students who Anniston could not track after they left the high school, Frazier said.
"We were not able to find what school systems they left to," Frazier said. "Those count as a dropout."
Frazier said the school system acquired a grant last fall from the state Education Department to hire an employee to track students and find where they are if they leave the school system.
"Every student that comes through the door, they are important," Frazier said. "You have to pay attention to the kids that stay and the kids that leave you."
Frazier said the high school also has a school improvement coordinator, who is working on a weekly basis with students at risk of dropping out. She added that the Anniston Board of Education is trying to acquire money to provide non-traditional opportunities for at-risk students, such as night school.
"Graduation rate improvement, there is no one silver bullet," Frazier said. "There is not one thing to address this."
Matt Akin, superintendent of Piedmont schools, said his high school's graduation rate drop was due mainly to the school’s small size. The high school graduated around 90 students last year, Akin said.
"If you have a small graduation class and a small district, a student here or there can make a difference," Akin said. "But 92 percent, we're pleased with that."
Akin said his school system works hard to keep students from ever reaching the point where they consider dropping out.
"Dropping out is not something that just happens for a student as a senior," Akin said. "It's something that has to be prevented early on."
Akin said Piedmont also has the technology to offer online classes to at-risk students during after school hours.
"The kids take these online classes because many may have to work during the day," Akin said.
Jacksonville Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell said his school system focuses on offering a high-quality instructional program to increase graduation rates.
"Teachers and staff work hand-in-hand to make sure students graduate," Campbell said. "The 90 percent rate, we're excited about that — but we're working to get 100 percent."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.
High school graduation rate 2012 2013
Anniston 58 percent 58 percent
Alexandria: 79 percent 86 percent
Jacksonville 85 percent 90 percent
Ohatchee 73 percent 88 percent
Oxford 90 percent 86 percent
Piedmont 94 percent 92 percent.
Pleasant Valley 92 percent 89 percent
Saks 75 percent 81 percent
Weaver 69 percent 80 percent
Wellborn 85 percent 86 percent
White Plains 96 percent 94 percent
Editor's note: This story has been modified to identify correctly the local school with the highest graduation rate in 2013. That school is White Plains High. Piemdont High had the second-highest rate.