by Cindy McMahon, Reynolds District Representative, Buncombe County School Board
Hooray for June! It’s the month of weddings and, perhaps more importantly, the month of graduations. At our April School Board meeting, we recognized the community partners who support Buncombe County Schools’ Graduation Initiative, and June is the obvious time to be talking about this important program.
But wait! Isn’t everything that happens in our public schools designed to help our students graduate? Why do we need a special initiative? It’s true that we’re in the business of graduating students. But some students need extra help to get there, and that’s the purpose of the Graduation Initiative.
The Graduation Initiative was the 2006 brain child of then-Associate Superintendent Tony Baldwin and Bill Murdock, Executive Director of Eblen Charities. The idea was to network internal student support services, along with support from Eblen Charities and other community partners, under the concept of “Connect the Dots.” As Murdock described it, “Dr. Baldwin and others in the school system had the courage to do something totally different. They knew what the best practices were for Buncombe County Schools, and they designed an initiative that would work right here.”
The Graduation Initiative, now led by former school counselor and principal Kaye Lamb, has a two-pronged approach to eliminating barriers to graduation:
1) they work with individual at-risk students to identify and address any specific issues that may prevent that student from staying in school; and
2) they address system-wide policies and procedures that may inadvertently drive students out of school.
The magic of this initiative is in its flexibility. Lamb and Emily Walters, our Reynolds District Graduation Initiative Specialist, work closely with the teachers and administration at Reynolds High to first identify the students who are at risk of dropping out, and then figure out the specific issue and find creative solutions to keep those teens in school. You’d be surprised what these students need: it may be finding creative ways for a student to get on-line instruction, or it may be a simple pair of shoes to wear to school. Whatever it is, the Graduation Initiative team will not let go until it happens.
As Reynolds Principal Doris Sellers said, the Graduation Initiative has brought a culture change to the school. “It has been a mindset shift,” she said, “and every faculty and staff member at our school contributes to helping our students achieve success.”
As a result of this intense focus on individual students’ unique needs, the Board of Education recently recognized Reynolds High School with the Graduation Initiative Compass Award, sponsored by the Eblen Center for Social Enterprise. This award acknowledges outstanding efforts for obtaining a graduation rate exceeding 90% and school-wide accomplishments with the graduation initiative. In five years, Reynolds’ graduation rate has grown from 83% to 90%—a tremendous jump.
As with all successes, this is a community-wide effort, and wouldn’t happen without the active engagement of several nonprofits, including:
- Eblen Charities;
- Children First/Communities in Schools of Buncombe County;
- The United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County;
- The YWCA of Asheville; and
- The YMCA of WNC.
Please join me in thanking all of these partners of public schools. And if you’d like to be a part of the solution, consider making a donation to one of our partners. Your contribution could buy that pair of shoes that walks across the stage on graduation day!
Questions for me? Please email Cindy.McMahon@bcsemail.org.