The Iberville Parish School District landed at the top of the class this year in the state’s graduation rate report, logging the biggest percentage improvement in the number of students finishing high school within four years.
The school district experienced a 14.1 percentage point increase in the Louisiana Department of Education graduation rate report, which was released earlier this month.
The report says that 74 percent of Iberville Parish students in the 2012-13 school year finished high school within four years. During the previous year, the school district only saw 59.9 percent of its high schoolers graduate on time.
School Superintendent Ed Cancienne credit the district’s impressive performance to a specialized team of faculty and staff that includes high school principals, guidance counselors and the school system’s most recent additions — graduation coaches.
The School Board approved hiring graduation coaches three years ago.
“The guidance counselors are so busy with testing they couldn’t really get down into the trenches to address the issue,” Cancienne said. “But when we looked at the data prior to this year, we saw we needed to be more effective in that area so we created a formidable team that was able to call kids — really keep up with them. The small things really make the difference.”
Prior to this year’s graduation report, Iberville could never quite inch over the 60 percent mark. On average, the district saw only approximately half of its students completing high school within four years.
Chandler Smith, principal at Plaquemine High, said the district’s less-than-stellar graduation rates were often due to students missing the four-year benchmark because they might have missed a class credit or two.
Smith, who is heading into his third year as Plaquemine High’s principal, said a department of student services was created at the school to remedy the problem.
The department includes a data room where student records are more closely monitored, while at-risk kids are assigned to the school’s graduation coach, Hunter Markins, who serves as a mentor to keep students on track.
Students lagging behind by a course or two were enrolled in virtual classes, offered through the school district’s online curriculum and administered through the laptop computers each student receives in the district as part of the Iberville 1+1 Initiative.
“Since Iberville has the 1+1 Initiative, we have the ability to give students not only seven (hours) a day, but an eighth and ninth hour as well,” Smith said. “And the graduation coach pulls up their online reports to monitor their course work. He sets deadlines for them and goals they have to meet.”
Markins also keeps track of attendance, another major factor that contributes to a student’s academic success.
“Some get discouraged easier; they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Markins said. “I keep pushing them. I tell them if they keep working hard, good things will happen for them.”
Markins said he encourages his students to enroll in extracurricular activities for further motivation.
“At the end of the day, I do whatever it takes to get them to find their place, their comfort zone. I want them to find something else they can do besides drop out,” Markins said.
Across the parish at East Iberville High, graduation coach Pamela Lodge said she’ll call police for help if she has a student falling behind because of poor attendance.
“If they’re not at school, I go to their house, tell them to get dressed or I’ll send a police officer to come and get them,” Lodge said. “I work closely with the police chief. Like me, he feels if we can get them to stay in school, he won’t have to deal with them later.”
Lodge, a former employee at the Jetson Center for Youth, said part of her job is to also hold parents accountable, especially with at-risk students.
“If you want that child to graduate, you need to make sure they’re in school and prepared,” she said.
Lodge says she also sits in class to monitor students’ behavior in the classroom setting to determine the areas in which they need extra help.
“It’s a lot of mentoring, a lot of phone calls,” she said.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.