Fulton Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa points to a chart showing graduation increases at North Springs and Riverwood.

Graduation rates have increased at both North Springs and Riverwood high schools, helping the Fulton County School System along in its goal of achieving a 90 percent graduation rate by 2017. 

“North Springs High School in 2011 had a graduation rate of only 64.5 percent,” said Fulton Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa at a Rotary Club of Sandy Springs luncheon on Jan. 26. “Today they’ve gone up 13 percentage points in four years. They’re at 77.5 percent , which is 7½ percentage points higher than the state.”

He continued, “Riverwood High School had a 71 percent graduation rate in 2011. This past year that just ended they’ve gone up to 81 percent, a 10 point increase.”

Avossa said that the students improving at the schools are the ones who have had a hard time advancing in the past.

“Kids living in poverty, African American boys in particular — we don’t graduate enough of our African American young men, and our Latino students, English language learners.”

Avossa said that Fulton County now has the highest graduation rate in metro Atlanta.

He said that when took the helm of Fulton County Schools four years ago, he sat down in then-Mayor Eva Galambos’ office, where she told him that Sandy Springs can’t recruit businesses to the city without great public schools, asking him, “What are you going to do to fix that?”

Avossa said that the achievement gap between white students from educated families and African-American and Latino students needs to close. He said until schools really start improving, parents will continue to send their children to private and parochial schools, meaning they have less money to spend in the community.

A school system as diverse and geographically spread out as Fulton has to be flexible, he said. As a result, the schools have introduced career pathways that allow students to explore technical fields, and in some cases students can leave at noon to work at a job that helps to support their family. But he explained that getting students ready for college remains the goal, whether it’s a four-year school or technical school

“When’s the last time an air conditioner repairman came to your house and you didn’t write a check for a least $150 or $200?” Avossa asked. “We’ve got air conditioner repairman positions right now in Fulton County that make $10,000 more a year than my first-year teacher that requires a bachelors degree. And I’ve got 12 openings if you know anybody.”

He said the school system is bringing in students as interns, and is partnering with organizations like Siemens and Porsche to get students work place experience..

“Hopefully when Mercedes moves to the area we’ll be able to partner with them,” he said.

Ann Marie Quill

Ann Marie Quill is Associate Editor at Reporter Newspapers.

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