The Ohio County School District's graduation rate jumped 18 points in the past four years - an improvement district educators attribute to better identifying and assisting "at risk" students as they start high school.
The West Virginia Department of Education reports the four-year cohort graduation rate for Ohio County Schools - the assessment of students beginning grade 9 in the district and graduating four-years later - at 92.99 percent for the 2013-2014 school year. The number runs one year behind and thus reflects those graduating in May 2013.
The graduation rate in Ohio County for the 2012 school years was 86.16; for 2011, 81.4; and for 2010, 74.72 percent, according to the WVDOE.
Wheeling Park High School students Lexie Patterson and Jackson Klem study in the school’s media center.
The 92.99 percent graduation rate in Ohio County Schools compares to an 81.39 percent statewide graduation rate in West Virginia.
"It's not just one thing (that's working to improve graduation rates in the district)," said Wheeling Park High School Principal Amy Minch. "There's a lot of effort taking place, and a lot of people doing a lot of work. We monitor attendance and behavior to determine which students are at risk, and we keep an eye on those kids. We make sure they are coming each day, and their failures are not causing them to leave."
She said guidance counselors are making visits to the homes of students who miss school and spending more time working one-on-one with them to see they get whatever academic help they need to keep them from being discouraged in school.
"So often, students start to feel overwhelmed and that they are behind the eight ball, so you have to start at the beginning making sure that they stay on track," she continued. "If they fail a class, you have to make sure they take that class again the next semester or in summer school so they get back on target. If they get too far behind, by the time they come to their junior and senior year there is too much for them to do."
Four years ago, Ohio County Schools started a GED Option Program for "at risk" students identified at the middle school level, and Minch noted the most recent numbers reflect it has had a tremendous effect in improving the school district's graduation rate.
Under the first option, "at risk" students are geared toward the career tech program at WPHS, encouraged to complete training in at least one area and test for their certification.
If they successfully pass all sections of the GED test, the student is awarded a high school diploma, according to Minch.
These students are eligible for the Promise Scholarship offered in West Virginia, and many go on to attend technical colleges.
"There are kids who are very bright who would have no problem passing the GED test, but sitting in the classroom is not where their passion is," Minch said. "They want to do career tech."
Another option is available to those juniors and seniors who have fallen behind after failing classes in one subject area. They may take the GED test for that subject, then be given class credit if they successfully pass it.
Students still bent on dropping out of school are first subject to an exit interview, Minch continued.
During this discussion with school officials, they must explain their plans for both the immediate and distant future.