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Saks High School graduated 98 seniors in a ceremony Thursday night. (Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

Trent Penny/The Anniston Star

All but three of Calhoun County’s 11 high schools exceeded Alabama’s average graduation rate last year, state statistics released Monday show.

Anniston High School, Wellborn High School and Alexandria High School each had graduation rates under the 89.2 percent state average in 2016. Also, only four schools in the county saw a drop in their graduation rates between 2015 and 2016.

The Alabama Department of Education released the latest state graduation rates Monday after months of delays.

Oxford High School, Piedmont High School and White Plains High School all had graduation rates above 95 percent last year.

Anniston High had the lowest graduation rate in the county at 79 percent in 2016, a dip from 86 percent the prior year. Alexandria High had a similar dip to 88 percent in 2016 from 95 percent in 2015.

Some of the stark change in Anniston’s and Alexandria’s graduation rates can be attributed in part to the schools’ relatively small class sizes. All high schools but Oxford High in the county each had fewer than 200 seniors last year. With such small class sizes, just one or two dropouts can significantly affect those schools’ graduation rates.

Anniston schools Superintendent Darren Douthitt acknowledged the statistical discrepancies Friday, but said he and his administrators must own the graduation rate all the same.

Douthitt said that improving graduation rates in smaller schools like Anniston High comes down to focusing on individual students.

“We do our best for every child and to change their minds if they’re thinking of dropping out,” Douthitt said.

Douthitt said the system plans to double its efforts to keep students in school and help them graduate. He added that the system used federal money this year to pay to transport students to summer school to help prevent them from dropping out.

Jacksonville schools Superintendent Mark Petersen said he was pleased that Jacksonville High School’s graduation rate jumped to 93 percent from 91 percent year over year.

“With such a small class size, you have to make sure to pay attention to each individual student,” Petersen said. “For several years before I got here, Jacksonville High has focused on each individual student.”

Ed Roe, deputy superintendent for Calhoun County School, said while some county schools saw slight dips in their graduation rates in 2016, the system as a whole has seen those rates rise steadily over the last several years.

“We meet with kids and do all we can to keep them in school,” Roe said.

Roe noted that the system started new programs this year in every high school to further help students graduate.

“This year every student has a mentor, be it a coach or a teacher or the band director,” Roe said.

“The schools are also kicking off campaigns to pull more students into extracurricular activities ... the more students are doing in addition to academics, the greater their chances are to graduate.”

Jody Whaley, principal at Saks High, where the graduation rate jumped to 94 percent from 90 percent, year-over-year, said administrators have done a better job at tracking students who transfer out to other systems.

“In years past, those students were identified as dropouts,” Whaley said.

The system also offers more online classes than in years past to help students keep up with their studies and not drop out, he said.

 

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.