Since 2011, the graduation rate is up not only across all of Walton County’s schools, but statewide.
The Walton County School District has seen a 17.1 percentage point rise in that time, rising to a 91.8% graduation rate in 2020, while Walnut Grove High School rose 16.9 points and Loganville High School 7.4 points for the highest graduation rate in the area at 93%.
Then there is Monroe Area High School, which, since 2011, has seen its graduation rate soar up by 30.1 percentage points, exceeding 90% for the first time to reach a 92.6% graduation rate. That’s an increase of 9.4 points over last year’s 83.2% rate, 8.8 points higher than the state average and a massive increase over the 62.5% rate the school held in 2011.
What has led to such an impressive rise over the past decade?
Principal Bryan Hicks, who came to the school in 2012, and his team said it’s due to a comprehensive change in how they looked at graduation and what it takes to get students over the finish line.
“The problem was, we were looking at what the students do in their senior year,” Hicks said. “By that point, it’s far too late. You have to start much earlier to truly make a difference.”
Dwayne Wiggins, a graduation coach who also has been a counselor at MAHS, agreed.
“It goes way back to middle school and even elementary school,” Wiggins said. “It’s also about increasing connections among the students, getting them involved. It’s A school, but when you get involved, it becomes YOUR school.”
Jamie Nichols, assistant principal at MAHS, echoed that sentiment.
“We encourage students not only to attend school, but be involved in school,” she said. “Being in sports or fine arts programs or after-school events gives students more reasons to keep coming and stay on top of things so they can continue to participate.”
Nichols also said the state’s push to increase focus on postsecondary options beyond college was important.
“We’re really focused on all students being college- and career-ready,” Nichols said. “Not all students will go to college, but they can be ready to go into the workforce or into the military or an apprenticeship.”
Hicks said growth took time, but they celebrated every milestone.
“We have not always had the highest numbers, but we’ve always celebrated our growth,” Hicks said. “Success breeds success. We’ve seen improvements in attendance, in our Advanced Placement scores, in our special programs, and all that has contributed.”
Teacher recruitment was key, as well.
“We brought in teachers who want to make a difference,” Hicks said. “And then we let them teach. That was what they’re hired for. Everything else, we tried to handle on the administrative end so the teachers could focus on the students.”
That focus, all agreed, was vital.
“People don’t care you how much you know until they know how much you care,” Wiggins said.
“We invested in the kids and form relationship with them,” she said. “That plays a major role.”
Hicks said the focus on students from before they even arrive from other cluster schools helps foster that.
“We’re a community in this school,” Hicks said.
Ultimately, though, it’s all about laying groundwork.
“People think of graduation rate being about just who walks across the stage their senior year,” Hicks said. “But the work started three years before that. We’re doing the same thing with this year’s freshmen for three years from now. That’s how you see growth and success.”