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Eagle's Landing graduation rate reaches record high

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Each high school cohort aspires to achieve more than its elder classes by chanting louder in school assemblies and pep rallies, or by achieving the highest milestone available to a high school student in graduating.

The Class of 2010 at Eagle's Landing High School did just that, as the vast majority in the class achieved graduation last spring. Eagle's Landing was recognized Tuesday by state officials for the school's success in attaining a high school graduation rate of 90 percent for 2010, up from roughly 81 percent in 2009.

Because of the achievement, Gov. Sonny Perdue and State School Superintendent Brad Bryant paid a visit to Eagle's Landing.

North Hall High in Gainesville, Ga., and Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Ga., also saw their graduation rates increase dramatically in recent years.

The governor and state superintendent presented the three schools with $3,000 grants for graduation-improvement programs. The Henry County school also received a plaque, and T-shirts for its seniors and faculty members -- all courtesy of AT&T, according to state officials.

"Eagle's Landing High School is honored to be recognized by the governor as one of the top three schools in the state of Georgia for significant graduation rate increases while maintaining high academic standards," said Eagle's Landing Principal Gabe Crerie.

Crerie was joined by Perdue, Bryant, and other state and local education officials during Tuesday's school-wide assembly.

"We achieved a rate above 90 -- up from 70.6 percent two years earlier -- because of the hard work of students, the caring and support of teachers, and the backing of high standards from our parents and stakeholders," Crerie added.

Shelby Clayton, the president of the Senior Class of 2011 at Eagle's Landing, also credited the school's teachers, administrators, and its graduation coach, Karen Perry, with helping seniors graduate on time.

"They keep us informed, so that we are able to know what to do to graduate," explained Clayton, who represents 239 students in this year's senior class.

"I feel amazing [about the recognition]," she added, "because it just shows how much hard work each and every student has put in to make this school what it is today. I have high hopes for my class."

The school's graduation coach, Karen Perry, concurred with Clayton's sentiments. "I'm really glad Eagle's Landing was recognized for this, because this school has done great work for 20 years," said Perry, noting that this year is the school's 20th anniversary.

Perry said maintaining high standards has been the key to the school's success in graduating so many of its students. That success, she said, is achieved through interventions for struggling students, academic remediation, credit recovery opportunities, and teacher-student tutoring.

"There's no magic bullet," she said. "It's a daily effort from teachers and faculty to reach out to students and convince them that they can do more."

Ethan Hildreth, assistant superintendent of administrative services for Henry County Schools and the former principal at Eagle's Landing, was on hand to celebrate the honor. He served as principal of the school from 2001 to 2006, and hired Perry to the position of graduation coach.

"I am excited, pleased, and proud of Eagle's Landing's faculty and students," Hildreth said. "They developed a real culture of learning and high expectations, and that results in increased success for their students."

Gov. Perdue noted that Eagle's Landing's performance during his tenure as governor has seen an improvement from a roughly 74 percent graduation rate in 2003, to a 90 percent rate in 2010. The state-wide graduation rate, he said, was 63.3 percent when he took office, and rose to an all-time high of 80.8 percent for 2010.

The governor pointed out that 91,561 students graduated with a high school diploma last school year, compared to 65,213 students, who graduated in 2003.

"I set a goal to have our graduation rate at 80 percent by the time I left office," Perdue told the assembly at Eagle's Landing. "Today, we're graduating 26,000 more high school seniors than we did eight years ago, when I took office."

Added Superintendent Bryant: "Our high school principals, teachers and students should take a lot of pride in the fact that more students than ever are graduating in Georgia. This is a testament to a lot of collaboration and hard work by our teachers and students."

Henry County Schools' system-wide graduation rate has improved as well. The graduation rate for 2010, according to the Georgia Department of Education, was 82.3 percent in a class of 3,125 high school seniors -- up from 80 percent of 2,992 pupils in 2009.

"It's an exciting day for the students, the faculty, the parents, and the administration, here at the high school," said Henry County Schools Superintendent Michael Surma. "We will continue to have all of our schools strive for excellent graduation rates."