Putnam County School District hopes to hire three grad coaches

As the 2015-2016 school year comes to a close, Putnam County School District officials are already working to boost next year’s graduation rates. 

On Tuesday, Putnam County School District board members approved a job description for a graduation coach, a person who will “advocate for and provide support for identified students who are most at-risk of not graduating.”

According to Superintendent Phyllis Criswell, state Department of Education Region 2 officials suggested the district hire a graduation coach to help improve graduation rates. 

If federal funding allows, Criswell said, three graduation coaches would be hired to help students in the Palatka area, the south end of the county and the west end of the county.

“It’s not something we’ve had before,” Criswell said. 

Tonya Whitehurst, district director of secondary education, said graduation coaches will be trained to identify early indicators that could lead to a student dropping out.

“The graduation coaches will be working with all the schools,” Whitehurst said. “Studies show that indications of a student dropping out start as early as third grade.”

Decreasing the dropout rate, Whitehurst said, will improve graduation rates. 

Whitehurst said district officials are hoping for a 60 percent graduation rate this year, an improvement from 54.9 percent of students who graduated with the Class of 2015. 

Whitehurst said the graduation coaches will be part of a graduation initiative district officials hope to present to the Putnam County School District board next month.

“We’ve done some cleaning up,” Whitehurst said. “We’re already implementing some things.”

This year’s graduation rates will not be released until seniors finish earning their credits, which could continue into the summer. 

Whitehurst said the state must approve the use of federal money to fund the graduation coach positions. She expects state officials will reach a decision before the start of the 2016-2017 school year in August.