South Charlotte’s graduation rate tops CMS

by Morgan Smith

South Charlotte’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools can pat themselves on the back, as graduation rates continue to rise and are now less than 5 percent away from the CMS 2014 goal of a 90 percent graduation rate.

Four out of the five south Charlotte high schools increased their graduation rates during the 2010-11 school year according to the recently released CMS school progress reports. The reports were originally released in February, but were taken out of the public eye when various errors were found in some of the statistics.

Ardrey Kell, East Mecklenburg, Myers Park and Providence high schools all increased their graduation rates, bringing the south Charlotte average up from 84.4 percent in 2009-10, to 85.6 percent in 2010-11. That’s compared to the current district-wide rate of 73.5 percent, up from 69.9 percent in 2009-10.

South Mecklenburg High School’s rate dropped 1.7 percent in 2010-11.

But one south Charlotte high school showed the greatest improvement. Myers Park High raised their graduation rate 3.3 percent last year, from 81.9 percent in 2009-10 to 85.2 percent.

Myers Park principal Tom Spivey said the school has made major changes over the past several years to better focus on at-risk students who could easily fall through the cracks.

“We really start as freshman, focusing in and working on addressing their specific needs,” Spivey said. “We have a lot of at-risk kids here, so we really focus on them.”

Programs like credit recovery, mentoring and an advisory system ensure at-risk students have support. Spivey said teachers and counselors at the school have really stepped up in recent years to ensure parents are in the loop and students receive help to succeed.

“It’s really all of us working together,” he added.

South Charlotte CMS students can brag about their performance on the end-of-course composite tests. Around 88.5 percent of students performed at or above standard, compared to the district-wide rate of 80.7 percent. Some south Charlotte numbers were rounded because of federal privacy regulations with percentages that are greater than 95 percent or less than 5 percent.

The CMS goal is to have 90 percent of students performing at or above standard by 2014. But overall, performance dropped last year for both south Charlotte high schools and the district high schools, with a less than 1 percent drop in south Charlotte and a 2.6 percent drop district-wide.

For area middle schools, overall their average performance rates stayed pretty static, with a less than 1 percent increase or decrease in every performance category – reading, math, science and overall. In south Charlotte, 85.3 percent of CMS middle school students are performing at or above grade level overall, while the district average stands at 76.2 percent. But two south Charlotte middle schools are still hanging below the CMS average, with 69 percent of Quail Hollow Middle’s students performing at or above grade level, and 64.7 percent of students at McClintock Middle performing at or above grade level.

At Quail Hollow, the performance level in science increased 8.2 percent, from 62 percent in 2009-10 to 70.2 percent in 2010-11. That’s in line with increasing science performance across south Charlotte’s elementary schools, where 3 percent more students are now performing at or above grade level in science. That’s because of efforts made from schools like Cotswold Elementary, that raised student performance in science from 60 percent in 2009-10 to 80.5 percent of students performing at or above grade level in 2010-11.

Joseph Smith, lead science teacher at Cotswold, said scores and performance levels have improved since his team learned to use different types of tools, such as Discover Education and practice formatives.

“We redesigned our curriculum for more hands-on experiences as (students) went through a concept,” Smith said. “We also instituted a science journal which was a main focus on every lesson.”

With the journals, Smith explained that students were responsible for note taking and organization on their own, creating study guides. He also credits some of the school’s improvement success to Wayne Fisher, the pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade science specialist for CMS.

“Throughout the year he is just a great support person for providing new ideas and new things to help sharpen our focus,” Smith said.

But most importantly, Smith said the best way to improve student achievement is to reflect and build on prior year’s experience.

Overall, 85.3 percent of south Charlotte’s CMS elementary students are performing at or above grade level in reading, math and science, compared to 75.6 percent district-wide.

Smithfield, Montclaire, Rama Road, Cotswold, Greenway Park and Huntingtowne Farms elementary schools were the lowest performing elementary schools in south Charlotte.

At Huntingtowne Farms Elementary, one of south Charlotte’s Title I schools where at least 75 percent of the student population is considered economically disadvantaged, Principal Carol Rodd said because of changes in staffing and investments in technology such as SMART Boards in every classroom the school is anticipating a gain in student achievement this year. Rodd is new to the school, along with the assistant principal and dean of students. The school also gained another guidance counselor this year, as well as two more facilitators, four overall, to support teachers in areas of math and literacy.

“I think the biggest change we’ve made is the completely new administration,” Rodd said. “We’re trying to build effective teachers. We have talent at Huntingtowne Farms. My role is unlocking the potential of the teachers to be able to unlock the potential of the students.”

Rodd added the school has a four-year goal of becoming a premier International Baccalaureate Title I school, and with the IB program already in place, she feels the school is on their way to achieving that success.

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