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DeKalb County School District graduation rates trail surrounding districts

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DeKalb County School District graduation rates trail surrounding districts

DeKalb County School District Bus. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor 

DeKalb County, GA — The data is in: the DeKalb County School District’s 2022 graduation rate is the lowest in metro Atlanta. 

Georgia’s high-school graduation rate increased to 84.1% in 2022, the highest it’s been since the state began using a federally required method to calculate the rate. DeKalb’s graduation rate is trailing at 76.2%, compared to Atlanta Public Schools (84%), Henry County (86.8%) Fulton County (89.3%), Gwinnett County (83.2%) and Cobb County (87.4%). 

According to the Georgia Department of Education, DCSD graduated 5,257 students from a cohort of 6,900 from a four-year-high school program in 2022. The district has several non-traditional high school programs, like Elizabeth Andrews High School. 

DCSD interim superintendent Dr. Vasanne Tinsley is proud of the current graduation rate, but recognizes there is “work to do.”

Source: DeKalb County Schools. Graphic by Katrina Junkin

Source: DeKalb County Schools. Graphic by Katrina Junkin

“We must know where our students are going when they leave us. Not knowing where these students are going impacts their graduation rate because they show up as unknowns, a potential drop out for the school district,” Tinsley said at the Oct. 17 school board meeting.

Tinsley said intense focus will be placed on the district’s record keeping and enrollment withdrawal process. 

“We also will make sure that we have robust recovery options for our students because we know that credit recovery options help to keep our students on track, meaning that they will be able to graduate with their cohort,” said Tinsley. 

What happens to the students who don’t graduate in four years? 

GaDOE and DCSD said students who do not graduate in four years fall into two camps: drop-outs and those who continue working toward a diploma. Both agencies declined to answer how many students dropped out of DCSD during the 2021-22 school year. 

Some high schools maintained a similar rate as years prior. Druid Hills High School graduation rate dropped 0.8% in 2022. Redan High School and Lithonia High School were up in 2022. Tucker High School hovers around 80%, and Arabia Mountain is consistent at about 99% year after year. 

Others are in crisis. Stephenson High School had a two-year decline of 8.8%. At the school board meeting, a longtime school volunteer said Stephenson’s 74% graduation rate is “ridiculous.” 

Phillip Parker is the vice president of Stephenson High School PTSA and the father of two Stephenson graduates. 

“At Stephenson in 1996, we came to the building with great hopes. In 2010, the students believed that they were the number one high school in America. Now, our children and parents are not motivated. Their community does not hear a lot of bad news coming out of Stephenson, but we also don’t hear of a lot of good news,” Parker said. “We have the power to rebuild our own community. If Stephenson goes down, our whole community will follow. It’s time for change or revision at Stephenson, and I am committed to help make that change.”

In 2021, GaDOE partnered with Graduation Alliance to recover students who had disengaged from school in rural and urban areas. In DeKalb County, a program called ENGAGE Georgia was launched to support schools with a graduation rate lower than 80%. 

ENGAGE Georgia helps students and their families who are struggling with engagement due to the continued effects of the pandemic. The initiative is led by Dr. Sherry Johnson and Dr. Rebecca Braaten, director of research, data and evaluation at DCSD. 

Braaten, who presented graduation rate data at the recent school board meeting, said principals receive a monthly update on students who are not engaged in school. 

“We’re thankful for the stability of the graduation rates,” Braaten said, referring to Dunwoody High School, “but we have aspirations to get all schools into the 90s.” 

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