In an effort to decrease the dropout rate, the Cherokee County School District piloted a “Ninth Grade Academy” at Cherokee High School in 2007-08. The Academy concept keeps the freshman class together in one area of the campus, and the students also are scheduled for the same lunch period. The freshman class has its own assistant principal and guidance counselor, and the Graduation Coach for the school is housed with the ninth graders. The students’ grades and attendance are monitored weekly, and any student who has a grade fall below 73 has to give up half of his lunch hour for tutoring sessions with ninth grade teachers until the grade is pulled back up.
At the end of the pilot year, Cherokee High saw a 64 percent drop in the number of ninth-grade students who were retained. Alternative school referrals dropped 44 percent, in school suspension referrals dropped 25 percent, and the number of students absent more than six days decreased by a third. Failing grades decreased in most subject areas, while A’s increased in nearly every subject. The program has been so successful that each high school is rolling out the academy concept in some form for the 2008-09 school year.