Graduation generic

Alachua County is making it very difficult for students to fail their classes, which has led to greater gains in the county’s graduation rates.

Newberry High School became the first public high school in the county to have 100 percent of its 154 seniors for the 2018-2019 school year graduate, according to the Florida Department of Education.

The school is one of 74 schools documented by the department that received a 100 percent graduation rate compared to a total of 1,084 high schools in the state. But it’s also a part of a growing trend of increased graduation rates in Alachua County. 

Graduation rates in Alachua County increased 0.5 percent from 2018 to 2019, according to the state’s education department. In 2019, 88.5 percent of the county’s high school students graduated, which was above the state average of 86.9 percent.

“I’m very proud of our schools,” said Eileen Roy, Alachua County School Board chair. “Every year we just do a little bit better. We’re ahead of the state and going in the right direction.”

Roy said the equity plan, first presented in August 2018, has helped close the gap between the minority and white students graduating. She said students achieve graduation in this plan through credit retrieval of failed courses and by putting more minority students in higher-level classes.

Alachua County’s African American graduation rate increased from 79.2 to 79.9 percent, and the Hispanic/Latinx graduation rate increased from 83.7 to 90 percent. The white graduation rate increased from 92.2 to 92.9 percent. 

Eastside High School, a predominantly African American high school, contributed to closing this gap. Its graduation rate for African American students went from 84.9 to 91.8 percent, and for white students went from 100 to 96.6 percent. This improvement from having a 15.1 percent gap to having a 4.8 percent gap was a significant achievement, said Shane Andrew, Eastside High School principal.

Eastside High School also had the largest increase in graduation rates from 92.5 percent in 2018 to 94.9 percent in 2019, according to the Florida department. Additionally, it had the largest gains in at-risk students, which was a 10.5 percent increase. 

James Sheppard, principal of Newberry High School, said the school was able to achieve this goal by going the extra mile, which included having teachers stay later hours, meet on Saturdays, pick up these students during the summer and feed them both breakfast and lunch during the summer to make up their credits. 

“When it comes to getting 100 percent graduation rate, sometimes there are students that run across the finish line, and I teach to our staff that sometimes there are students you have to drag across the finish line,” he said. “We make it very difficult for our students to fail, and you have to go beyond the school’s day to get 100 percent graduation.”

Sheppard said there will be a party to celebrate the community — not just the high school — hopefully in late February. 

“Going the extra mile may get you 95 percent,” Sheppard said. “But you gotta go the extra five miles to get 100.”

Althea Wilson, a 15-year-old Newberry High School student and sophomore class president, said she believes her school reached this accomplishment because of the effort from the teachers and students.

“I feel very honored to be going to this school,” Wilson said. “The teachers really believe in their students.”

Andrew said he believes these gains came from teachers understanding the students’ needs and improving any deficiencies the students may have had in their learning. Meg Auerbach, Eastside High School English teacher, praised the Edgenuity program for helping students exercise what they learn and also being the platform for credit retrieval. 

Contact Stephany Matat at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @StephanyMatat.