This post is part of a series of blog posts authored by winners and finalists of the 2011 SCORE Prize. These posts highlight an aspect of their work that has dramatically improved student achievement.

Upon entering Jo Byrns High School, our students are greeted with the motto “Your Graduation is Our Expectation.” This motto, which is accompanied by graduation gowns that all of our current seniors sign, shows our collective commitment to ensuring that we instill a sense of purpose in our students to not only graduate high school but also to attend post secondary education of some type. Since Jo Byrns High School serves a rural community in which the majority of people have completed a high school diploma or less, we believe that the school plays an essential role in the lives of our students to make them aware of choices they have beyond high school. All of us at the school, including teachers, the guidance staff, our leadership, and our families, play an important role in helping our students graduate from high school and navigate their post secondary options.

At Jo Byrns High School, setting students on a path to graduation begins with forming relationships. My colleagues and I work very hard to ensure that every student knows that each teacher cares about them and their education. I feel that the personal relationship that each student has with each teacher fosters a positive educational relationship. As the high school counselor at Jo Byrns High School, I meet and work with all students on an individual basis in the spring of each year to create their schedules for the following year. I believe that meeting with all students to discuss their current plan and progress is an essential part of scheduling. This allows me to engage in direct dialogue with every student regarding graduation and graduation requirements. Importantly, these meetings also foster an environment for positive relationships to form. Since our school is a rural seventh through 12th grade school, developing and maintaining relationships with students is essential for their long-term success.

Using student data to identify what academic supports students need is also an important step in the process of achieving graduation through teamwork. This year, we created a data room that houses all of our student data. All student achievement data can be seen at a glance when walking into this room. Students are placed in areas of Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced in all testing areas including TCAP, TCAP Writing and all End of Course testing. All Professional Learning Community meetings are held in this room on a weekly basis. PLC meetings allow for each discipline to meet each week to target struggling students and discuss student achievement and performance.

Last year, our school implemented an extensive enrichment time that has played a major part in our high graduation rate (currently 97 percent). This time allows students to receive extra time and support in classes that they may be struggling in. It also allows for teachers to make sure that no student receives a zero on any assignment due to lack of parental support at home to complete the assignment. Students that have missing assignments are assigned to our Intensive Care Classroom during this time to receive help in completing any missing assignments. These first two focuses – forming relationships with our students and providing them with the supports they need to succeed academically – lay the foundation for talking about college with our students and their families.

Beginning in eighth grade, our school partners with the students and parents to determine student interest and plan a high school program to prepare them for the future. We advertise and participate in Robertson County’s College Night, which gives our students an opportunity to speak with representatives from four year universities, junior colleges, technical schools, and different branches of the military. We carefully monitor each student to ensure that they receive the necessary supports to be successful, and we work very hard to help students find the financial assistance that they need to attend post secondary schooling.

We feel that we are here for all students and meet each student’s needs to the highest degree possible. Graduation for all students truly is our expectation. We have learned that the support you need to provide to students to make this a reality begins when they first walk through our doors. When a student graduates from Jo Byrns High School, we feel that the education of that student has been impacted on a personal level by at least one member of our team. We work together as a team to ensure that all students are prepared to face any and all obstacles, challenges, adversities, and experiences upon leaving Jo Byrns High School.