South's Diplomas Now faces funding challenge
South High School is trying to capitalize on the success of its Diplomas Now program, which could be in jeopardy if revenue streams aren't found soon.
South promoted 98 percent of freshmen to the 10th grade on time and lowered by 93 percent the number of freshmen who were retained in ninth grade.
Of 44 schools in 12 cities, South quietly earned High School of the Year honors last year because of its efforts.
But there are harsh realities on the horizon for the initiative.
William K. Ragland II, who runs the program at the school, said a federal grant that funds Diplomas Now will run out at the end of the school year.
"It's just wait and see, really," Ragland said.
He's mobilizing a campaign to get federal Title 1 money, grants and corporate partnerships to continue funding the program to the tune of $433,000 a year.
"I'm confident in my kids and I'm confident in the city of Columbus," said Ragland, a 2003 Northland High School graduate and Ohio State University alumnus.
Diplomas Now looks to increase attendance rates, decrease behavior infractions and increase course passage rates for freshmen and sophomores. The partnership involves Talent Development Secondary, a program through Johns Hopkins University, City Year and Communities in Schools.
The program also debuted last year at Linden-McKinley and Mifflin high schools, but their funding is secure through 2015, Ragland said.
Ragland said he meets each week with educators to discuss "early-warning indicators," or signs that students are falling off track. He said he then tailors a specific intervention for each student, such as finding tutoring services, shelter, clothing and food. The school will even place a wake-up call to students in the morning.
"The program is based on making the right intervention at the right time," he said.
Even with the success of Diplomas Now at South, Ragland is not satisfied. He wants to see 100 percent of students promoted to grade 10 and the program extended to juniors and seniors.
He also wants 75 percent passage rate for sophomores on the Ohio Graduation Test. That means a 75-percent passage rate in all five subjects tested: reading, writing, math, science and social studies.
Principal Edmund Baker said it would be a shame to lose Diplomas Now at South High School.
"It's extremely important to continue with this program because it's yielded tremendous results," he said. "I see the value in it. Our students benefit from it daily."
Getting to the kids early is key, he said.
When they fall behind and start to lose credits toward graduation, it "begins to get discouraging," he said.