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School officials review MHS graduation rates

by Larry S. Chowning

This year is the first year that the Virginia Department of Education has announced “Virginia On-Time Graduation Rates.” The state established its rates by determining how many 2005 ninth-graders graduated on time in 2008.

The results revealed that females in the 2008 Middlesex High School graduation class had the lowest percentage of all MHS groups for graduating on time. Only 78.90 percent of female students graduated on time in 2008.

The overall average of females graduating on time in 2008 was 84.30 percent for all public schools in the state.

School superintendent Rusty Fairheart told school board members on October 13 that the low rate “surprised” him and he has no explanation for it. He noted this was the first time the state used this rating system, and school officials need to wait and see if this is a trend or just a one-time happening. 

School board member Jim Goforth asked if the low rate had anything to do with pregnancies. Fairheart said he did not think so, but was not certain.

The group with the highest on-time graduation success rate in the Middlesex School System was African-American students. Their on-time graduation rate was 89.3 percent—well above the state average of 72.60 percent for African-American students. 

“This is wonderful,” said school board chairman Richard Shores. “I’m delighted to see our black students excel in our school system.”

Middlesex was above the state norm for all students graduating on time with 82.10 percent. The state average was 81.30 percent. 

Graduating MHS white students averaged 79.5 percent, which was well below the state norm of 85.3 percent of white students graduating on time. 

MHS students with disabilities had an 87.5 percent graduation rate, compared to the state average of 81.10 percent.

MHS students identified as disadvantaged had an 83.30 percent graduation rate, which was well above the state norm of 69.80 percent. 

Homeless and hispanic students also were rated on a state level, but there were so few in the 2008 MHS graduating class that this area was not rated.

In other matters the board:

  • Voted to establish a division-wide Fine Arts Festival Committee. A Fine Arts Festival was started in the spring of 2004 as a way to highlight the progression of talent within the school division, and it has become a very popular spring event at the schools.
  • Voted at the request of county administrator Charles Culley to come up with ways, in writing, to reduce the school budget by 5 percent.  Fairheart suggested withholding 25 percent of the original appropriation to all line items (excluding salaries, contractual obligations, and fuel and utilities). This would save $145,000 or 2 percent.
    The remaining $207,676 or 3 percent would be realized through personnel cuts. All non-mandated positions would be scrutinized first, said Fairheart.
    “If implemented, this budget reduction proposal would limit the resources and services available to our students and staff,” he said.  “Furthermore all positions from the 2007-08 budget were closely scrutinized to ensure fiscal responsibility and operational efficiency. As a result, our current (FY09) budget includes a net decrease of three full-time positions from the FY08 budget.”
  • Learned that St. Clare Walker Middle School principal James Lane has been appointed to establish and lead a committee to analyze the feasibility of a four-day school week and other scheduling alternatives in an attempt to reduce operating costs. This committee will examine the positives and negatives associated with a 4-day school week and explore alternative scheduling methods.
  • Learned that Fairheart, Dr. Shores and Goforth received “certificates of excellence” from the Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) for their work on the board.
    School board member Lee Walton and clerk Peggy Jordan received certificates for participation and attendance at VSBA programs.

posted 10.23.2008

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