Tuesday night, Gov. Robert Bentley proudly announced in his State of the State address that Alabama graduated more students in 2013 than in any previous year. That, too, is impossible to ignore. Though it says nothing about the quality of public education in the state, the fact that large numbers of Alabama students are earning their high school diplomas is a noteworthy accomplishment.
However, Anniston High is nowhere in that discussion. In 2012 — and 2013 — its graduation rate was 58 percent. Our concerns about the school’s low percentage of graduates and high number of dropouts wouldn’t have been lessened even if the school hadn’t had a spike in “not found students,” those untracked after they left AHS, as Superintendent Joan Frazier explained.
In large part, Anniston sits alone in Calhoun County’s remedial class. Six of the county’s 11 public schools increased their graduation rates in 2013. Several schools, such as Ohatchee and Weaver, made significant increases from the year before. Three schools — White Plains, Jacksonville and Piedmont — had grad rates of 90 percent or higher. Pleasant Valley fell only one percentage point from that mark.
There are success stories in public education in Calhoun County.
Anniston, however, is vitally critical to the city’s future and the county’s economic picture. Anniston High sits geographically in the middle of the county and in the county’s largest and most influential city. The system’s middle school is considered a failing school by the state Board of Education. It also is searching for the retiring Frazier’s replacement.
Frazier’s comments this week to The Star were powerful. “Graduation rate improvement, there is no one silver bullet,” she said. “There is not one thing to address this.” She’s right. The depths of Anniston High’s predicament are surmountable, but are deep, nonetheless.
Anniston High’s number — 58 percent — should make the city’s politicians and elected leaders shudder with concern. The facts are obvious: Poverty is rampant in many of the city’s neighborhoods, and poverty is a common trait among schools that struggle with their central mission.
Improving AHS’s graduation rate isn’t merely about better teaching or newer classroom technology. It’s about everything that goes into civic repair — less poverty, more job training, increased job creation, reductions in street crime and drug trade and, most important, the buying in of an entire community to the job before it.
Until those things take place, Anniston High’s graduation rates may disappoint us year after year.