New program could boost graduation rate

Published 10:49 pm Friday, July 29, 2011

What could be an important step toward improving graduation rate in Alabama public schools began to blossom in Demopolis this week. Administrators and teachers from nine different school systems ranging from Tuscaloosa to Baldwin County descended upon the Demopolis High School auditorium Thursday and Friday to become acquainted with STI’s new Graduation Tracking System.

Alabama is the first state in the nation to utilize the system and Demopolis hosted the first of four statewide training sessions for the technology.

“This is the first in the nation for a K-12 tracking system,” Dr. Kay Warfield said. “It started two years ago. We needed to identify dropouts. We need a preventative tool to help us identify and intervene with off-track students.”

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The GTS program is being offered to every school system in Alabama at no cost. The system is a branch off of STI’s Information Now database which allows schools to enter and compile a variety of information pertaining to student success. With the Graduation Tracking System, principals at any grade level can print reports on individual students that reveal grades, attendance, behavioral issues and any other factor that would lead to a student being at-risk of dropping out or failing to graduate.

Chris Husting, vice president of product management for STI, said the idea for the system came from a suggestion made by Warfield.

“She realized there was data in Information Now that, if we could make it easier for people to see it everyday, it would make it easier for them to identify and help at-risk students,” Husting said. “This GTS report basically just harnesses some things in that database to tell them things about their kids.”

The new advancement drew strong reviews and positive first impressions from personnel in attendance.

“We re going to use this as an immediate response model to identify our high school students who are off track to graduate on time,” Rhonda Cotten, dropout prevention supervisor with Baldwin County Schools, said.

“It’s going to be a great tool for us to follow up with our students on a daily basis to identify those students who are at-risk as we work to make sure all students succeed,” Tonia Miller of Bessemer City Schools said.

The system figures to help schools operating on prorated budgets with reduced personnel numbers better keep up with student progress.

“The big plus is it is a proactive way of trying to watch for any students who are getting into trouble and get the intervention in place,” Gina Johnston, federal program and secondary education coordinator for Demopolis City Schools, said. “This sort of compiles factors that may make a child at-risk into a very easily accessible tool. It’s going to pull their absences, grades if they are beginning to fall, behavior problems. It’s going to be on the fingertips of administrators.”