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Grads give Austin, Decatur high marks

By Bayne Hughes · 340-2432

Decatur’s Class of 2007 gave its high schools high marks in college and work preparedness, challenging academics and exit-exam preparedness on a survey commissioned by the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce.

LifeTrack Services Inc. of Clarkston, Wash., surveyed 415 graduating seniors, 266 from Austin High and 149 from Decatur High.

Austin Principal Don Snow and Decatur Principal Mike Ward said they were pleased with the survey’s results.

“We want the students to feel like they’re getting a good education,” Ward said. “It’s a good survey but there’s always room for improvement.”

Identifying issues

John Seymour, president and chief executive officer of the chamber, said the group commissioned the survey to help the school system identify issues and needs that might help it guide the schools.

The two principals said a student’s academic and financial standings and involvement might skew survey results. Snow said students’ financial status could play into the ratings.

Decatur High has large groups of high-income and low-income students with a small middle class. Austin is a middle-class school.

While both got above-average ratings on almost every category, Austin students were more reserved in their answers. They gave fewer excellent ratings and more average ratings, which Snow attributes to the larger enrollment, about 1,500 compared to about 1,000 at Decatur.

Making sure all students feel challenged academically is an area on which both schools are working, since an “A” student might not feel as challenged as a student who struggles academically.

They are hoping the International Baccalaureate’s Diploma Program offers this challenging outlet. The program is starting its second year at both schools.

Of the students who participated in school activities, 84.6 percent, probably enjoyed the high school experience more than the 15.4 percent who said they didn’t, Snow said.

Austin got the only low rating on the survey, as 73.7 percent said school counselors weren’t helpful in career and college preparation and planning.

In contrast, 77.2 percent of Decatur High students gave counselors a favorable rating on the same question.

Snow said he knows there is a problem in the counselors’ office. Previously, one counselor followed a particular class through its four years of high school. Starting this year, Louis White will be the permanent senior counselor, while the other three will follow a class only for three years.

“This gives every senior a counselor who is experienced in dealing with seniors, has built relationships with the college and university recruiters, and can give legitimate answers to the questions seniors have,” Snow said.

The survey question on how many seniors plan to attend college after graduation stood out to Seymour. Almost 69 percent said they plan to attend a four-year college and 24 percent said they’re going to a two-year college.

“Ninety percent going to college is pretty unrealistic,” Seymour said. “Many of these students will go to college and flunk out, not have the money to finish or find that college isn’t for them. Then they’ll be back where they started several years earlier, trying to find the right path.”

Seymour said students and parents need to learn there are a lot of opportunities in the technical fields that don’t require a college degree, but do pay well.

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