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West Florence, Wilson High School achieve highest graduation rates in history

According to new data from the South Carolina Department of Education, the graduation rate for Florence 1 Schools increased by 2.3 percent in the 2019-2020 school year, with West Florence High School and Wilson High School achieving their highest gradation rates ever at 91.6 percent and 86.6 percent respectively.

West Florence increased by six and a half percent from the 2018-2019 school year to hit 91.6 percent.

West Florence principal Matt Dowdell said he was very happy with the newest data.

“I’m proud of the students, teachers and administrators in Florence 1 Schools who helped us reach this achievement,” Dowdell said.

Wilson also achieved its highest graduation rate ever during the 2019-2020 school year after hitting that record last year at 85.5 percent.

“I am proud of our achievements, and give all of the credit for our success to the great team of teachers and administrators I work with at Wilson,” said Principal Eric Robinson. “With the support of the district level administrators, I set high goals for graduation last year and will continue to push for even higher graduation rates in the future.”

Maggie Gause, Director of Student Support Services, said that graduation rate is proof that the district’s increased effort to help more students graduate is working.

“We are doing a better job, now, of tracking students from ninth grade rather than just focusing on the senior year of high school,” Gause said. “We are actively looking at attendance and grades and making sure that the students who need extra support are getting it.”

Problems with attendance often can be tracked over a student’s school career, Gause said. That’s why even elementary level school counselors are talking to students about the correlation between attendance, grades and graduation. Gause said that the district is also taking extra steps to track data for students who leave the district.

“We want to make sure that all of the data we provide to the South Carolina State Department accurately reflects what is happening in the district,” Gause said.

Having additional school counselors across the district has made the process of tracking student data easier and has allowed counselors to get more personal with students because their caseloads are smaller.

“Now, they know all of the students that they are responsible for because they have time to go over their files each week,” Gause said. “When I ask about a student by name, they know exactly who I’m talking about.”

Gause said that graduation coaches at the high schools meet with students who are at-risk because of grades or attendance issues.

“Graduation coaches are working with ninth-graders and current seniors, or those who should be seniors, specifically making sure that they are addressing these areas,” Gause said. “At South Florence they have put together admin teams made up of school counselors, graduation coaches and an assistant principal. They meet once-a-week to go over their entire caseload; they are looking at every single student, every single week, to see where they are. If they see something that could become an issue, they can address it
with the student before it becomes a bigger problem.”

The Alfred Rush Academy Flexible Learning Center is also a great resource for students who are interested in graduating early, need a flexible schedule, want a smaller learning environment or have fallen behind their cohort. More than thirty students graduated last year using the resources available through the Flexible Learning Center.

Florence 1 Superintendent Dr. Richard O’Malley said that graduation rates are a metric used all across the country, not just a local district or state matter, and he is thrilled to see the district number trending upward.

“Graduation rates are part of the data that sets national rankings and they reflect the quality of the education in our schools and our district,” O’Malley said. “On this report card we are seeing incredible increases that the district hasn’t seen in years. We know that graduating from high school opens a lot of doors and provides more employment opportunities, no matter what career path someone chooses. It is great to see the students in Florence reaching the potential that I know they are capable of.”

For the third year in a row, Florence 1 Schools had a higher graduation rate than the state average, which was 82.1 percent for 2019-2020.