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School leaders examine future
9th grade academy eyed as possibility
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While it may be quite a way off, local school leaders are looking at ways to help students transition from middle to high school.

"When we talk about meeting the needs of our students, we have to take into consideration all factors," said School Superintendent Damon Gibbs. "One of the things that we know is that we lose kids in the ninth grade. When we're talking about how to stop losing kids at that grade, we have to do something different than we are currently doing."

According to Gibbs, it's a problem that the state is struggling with and it's one he wants to find a solution for in Dawson County.

"We are currently looking at all opportunities on how we can best meet the need of all of our students," he said. "The graduation rate of schools across the state is dismal. They've gotten better in the past few years, but they are still not where they need to be.

"Ours is 85 percent and that's not good enough for us."

According to Gibbs, the issue is one that came to his attention when he first arrived in Dawson County and began exploring what was being offered to middle school students.

"The answer was simply that we didn't offer any opportunities for eighth graders to earn high school credit," he said. "We then began looking at our graduation rate and determined that, if we did a better job of making sure our ninth graders earned enough credits to become sophomores, then our 4-year cohort graduation rates would increase."

It's a process that Gibbs said is still in its infancy.

"First, nothing has been proposed to the board," he said. "As far as I know, it is not something that has been looked at in the past. At this point, I would say that we are simply looking at how we can best serve our students as we try to improve as a system."

Gibbs said that the only planning at this point has been to study other counties and how they have handled the same situation.

"We had a group travel to Gordon County. They are using the model where grades eight and nine are together in one building. They house grades six and seven in another building," he said. "We understand that Colquit County is using a similar format and plan to talk with them in the near future. White County is using the ninth grade academy format similar to several other districts."

Gibbs said that right now, no plans have even been remotely set in stone, but that several avenues have been considered.

"There are systems that create ninth grade academies. Others are creating ninth grade academies and housing them with eighth graders so that high school opportunities could be made available for that group as well," he said. "We are simply exploring possibilities. There have been no conversations that have included additional facilities being needed for any option."

He said that, should any plans be conceived, dialogue would certainly be opened with the public, but for now it's only conceptual.

"Based on being in the early stages of exploring possible options, I don't anticipate being ready to implement anything in the near future," he said. "Much more research needs to be completed at this time. If we think a change would be beneficial in the future, stakeholder meetings would be held to have a dialogue with our community."