“It has become more than clear that there is unwavering support within the Clarksville-Montgomery County community to achieve 100% graduation. There is a commitment that each and every student deserves the opportunity to accomplish this goal, and know they have earned this accomplishment with hard work and integrity,” said CMCSS Director of Schools Millard House.
Scoffers and doubters have challenged the lofty goal, but when asked: “Who are you going to tell that they can’t graduate?” the response is always silence. It was that rhetorical question which drove the goal being set at the highest mark in the first place.
Focused interventions and student personalization was key in 2008 when district leaders began an attack on a graduation rate of 76 percent. Profiling the high school dropouts was critical and assumptions were proven incorrect. Every year, the profile of the dropout may change, but one consistent characteristic is that students who drop out are highly transient, meaning they transfer to schools both within and outside of the district, usually due to parent or guardian circumstances.
Once district leaders felt they had maximized available resources, staff questioned what the community could do to help – not in terms of financial support, but in terms of voice and influence. In 2008, about one dozen local leaders were invited to weigh in and first decide on what the graduation rate goal should be for the district.
“It was the community leaders who said the goal had to be 100%; and while that scared us a bit, we saw their point and haven’t turned back,” said the chief academic officer at the time. The group began developing a campaign they branded: “100% Graduation is Clarksville’s Business!” It kicked off from the steps of the county courthouse with local dignitaries and the testimonial of a former student who got the needed push and help to graduate.
The local newspaper publisher committed his graphics staff to develop a logo. Others on the committee began a successful lobby to have signs installed at all entry points to the city with the logo and slogan boldly communicating the goal. Other local media began telling the stories, and businesses – both large and small — got on board. A list of non-financial commitments was developed that businesses and organizations (including the City Council and County Government) could sign professing their partnership. More than 100 businesses, civic, government and faith-based organizations have signed up to be a part of the 100% Graduation Project. A decal was placed on the door of every community partner with the 100% logo.
Partnerships formed and they took on a variety of looks, with business marquees encouraging students to do well on high stakes tests — to a local fast-food chain restaurant manager setting up a study area for student workers and requiring them to bring in their progress reports for review. This no-nonsense manager would cut the students’ work hours if grades dropped. It was an effective incentive.
Since its inception, the 100% committee has expanded its reach and involvement, including: hosting a student leadership summit to identify peer mentors; coordinating several school tours to get more community exposure to education successes and challenges; sponsoring and staffing activities centered around graduation at community events; appearing on videos and news features; and speaking to local civic groups and other communities about how to mobilize similar efforts to support high school graduation.
The presentation sells itself with the committee members making four key points about the results of improved graduation rates:
• A safer community
• An improved quality of life
• A stronger economy
• A brighter future
The vision for graduation must begin early for students. Reading on grade level is so important at a young age that the state of Tennessee plans the number of prisons it will build based on the reading level of children in the third grade. The majority of all inmates in state and federal prisons are high school dropouts.
Over one hundred organizations have joined this effort since June 5, 2008. To view a copy of the commitment contract, click here.
The CMCSS graduation rate moved from 78.5% in 2006 to 85.7% in 2007, to 88.3% in 2008, to 90.8% in 2009, 91% in 2010, 93.5% in 2011, 95.2% in 2012, 94% in 2013, 93.5%, 96.5% in 2015, 94.8% in 2016, and 95.1% in 2017. These results came from the focus and hard work of students, teachers, administrators, support staff, parents and community members who support the schools.
Please contact Anthony Johnson at (931) 920-7872 or [email protected] if you are interested in supporting this community initiative.
For a contract to become a 100% partner, click here.
For a list of businesses and organizations that have signed up to be part of the 100% Graduation Initiative, please click here.