Record-high graduation rate: Figures surpass 99% as Brown County High School posts best numbers in years

The goal for Brown County High School is to have all seniors walk across the graduation stage.

Last school year, all but one student did.

The school’s graduation rate for the 2015-16 school year was 99.3 percent; 143 of the 144 students in the class graduated, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

That’s the school’s highest graduation rate in at least 10 years.

It jumped by more than nine percentage points over the previous year. In 2014-15, 128 of 142 students graduated, or 90.1 percent.

The state’s graduation rate among all public schools averaged 88.8 percent last year.

It takes a team effort to get a diploma into some students’ hands, Principal Shane Killinger said. But when it comes down to it, it’s the students who make it all happen.

“They have to want it, because we can all work really hard, but if the student doesn’t want to graduate, that’s kind of almost an impossible feat,” he said.

The building is filled with help for students who are struggling — guidance counselors, teachers and administrators. Teachers work with students to “recapture credits they’ve lost,” and guidance counselors direct them to online courses through the summer, Killinger said.

Chris Stoll, the guidance officer administrative assistant, is tasked with checking on kids who withdrew from school, to see if they have enrolled in another school, Killinger said.

Any student who withdraws from the “cohort,” or class group, can count against a school’s graduation rate if it can’t be proven that the student has enrolled elsewhere.

To determine a graduation rate, the state follows a group from ninth through 12th grades. Students who drop out or move away before graduating and don’t re-enroll in school, or are still in school after four years, count against the rate.

The one student who didn’t graduate last year was still in school — a fifth-year senior “with very specific circumstances as to why (he or she) did not graduate,” Killinger said.

Killinger and Assistant Principal Angie Evans visit students at home who don’t attend school but have a few credits left to earn before graduating. This happens particularly with students who are 18 and can’t be brought to the probation department for attendance.

“We have tracked kids down and found them. ‘What are you doing? Why are you not graduating?’ Things like that,” Killinger said.

“I know one student, we did a home visit and we went to his employer. It was his employer who got ahold of him and got him to come into school. It’s also the community that is helping.”

The community also helped by employing seniors as part of a career internship course, which was offered for the first time last school year. The course allowed seniors to earn one to three elective credits per semester if they logged 150 hours at work and completed an assignment in the class.

That option helped students who work to support their families or themselves.

“It goes back to community, as far as employers working with teachers and with students to make sure they have the proper documentation,” guidance counselor Donna Alwine said. “Multiple people are playing into the success.”

Alwine said the guidance department also works to identify students who may need to change graduation tracks in order to graduate on time.

For example, if a student starts off on a Core 40 diploma track but has struggled in the required courses throughout high school, the student may need to switch to a general diploma track.

If that pattern isn’t caught until senior year, that may mean that in their freshman, sophomore and junior years, the student was taking classes he or she didn’t need for a general diploma, she said.

Teachers also help by telling the guidance office about students who are going through a course a second time and still not passing.

Alwine said students are also taking charge of their options.

“Students are becoming more and more aware of ‘Hey, I don’t have to be this statistic of a high school dropout. I can do this. I have a friend that did it and I can do the same thing,’” she said.

The focus on struggling students will increase starting this semester.

Shannon Brunton has begun working as the high school’s graduation and career coach, meeting with 20 freshmen and sophomores identified as at risk for dropping out. Those meetings will continue once a week for two years.

“We’re hoping with Shannon, since she’s working mainly with freshmen and sophomores, that we don’t have the juniors and seniors who have dug that extremely big hole that we’re trying to help them get out of,” Killinger said.

“To me, I’m extremely happy, but I won’t be ecstatic until we’re at 100 percent (graduation rate),” Killinger said.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.