Demopolis High School principal Terina Gantt brought Demopolis Rotarians up to date on the accomplishments over the past year and the initiatives planned for 2022-2023 at their meeting Wednesday.
Her talk was the second in a series of appearances by Demopolis educators as the Rotary Club follows the September theme of Basic Education and Literacy.
Gantt said the advances at DHS are “due in part to our hardworking staff.” The achievements she listed included the highest percentage of students who graduated College and Career Ready. Of the graduates, 57 percent had earned at least one college credit. Seniors were awarded more than $5.8 million in scholarships, the highest in school history.
“Our efforts are always intentional and aimed toward student success,” she said, but added, “We’re not satisfied.”
Two initiatives are being stressed this year to continue the school’s achievements, although one has been in the works for three years. Gantt said there is a push in Alabama to create opportunities in computer science. “We’re well above the curve and out in front of this,” she said.
In 2019 DHS had one student taking a computer science class. The next year, when Gantt became principal, 12 students were enrolled in an AP course in computer science, and 10 earned AP credit.
Last year DHS received a grant entitled Pathways for Alabama Computer Science, also known as PACS. It provides professional development for teachers and counselors in the area of computer science. DHS developed a three-course pathway for interested students, and 52 signed up.
Over this summer DHS received a grant from Microsoft TEALS (Technology, Education and Literacy in Schools). The grant pairs industry partners with schools.
Industry volunteers from both Tesla and Microsoft Zoom into the classroom three times each week to work with the 152 students enrolled in computer science classes this year. “We will continue to offer that pathway for our students.”
The second initiative is the Student Success Team. At the beginning of the second semester during the last school term, 35 seniors were found to be in danger of not graduating.
“I’ll be real,” Gantt told Rotarians. “If we had 35 students who didn’t graduate, you all probably would have run me out of town before I could even say goodbye. We knew we had to do something.”
Educators met with those 35 students once a week about meeting goals and completing assignments. They even involved parents.
“We met with (the students) so often that on graduation night when those kids walked across the stage – and they all graduated – there were big hugs, not handshakes,” she said.
The DHS staff learned two things from that experience. The first was that all students need someone who cares about them. They also learned that they can’t wait until the second semester to start the program.
Now every teacher and administrator at the school is a member of one of four teams. Starting with students in the ninth grade, “we’re going to replicate that process for every kid,” said Gantt. Struggling students will have mentors who will meet with them weekly to make sure they are on track for graduation.
“You would be shocked and surprised to see where some of our kids come from and the things that they face every day,” Gantt said.
“Our teachers are really excited about this,” she continued. “Often when you put something new on teachers, they bristle up, for lack of a better term, because it’s one more thing that they’re having to do. Their plates are already so full.”
Instead, as DHS teacher Amy Miller told Gantt, “This is why we became teachers. It’s always been about the students. This gives us the opportunity to do what we love to help students in need.”
“We are making great strides,” said Gantt, “but we’re not where we want to be yet.”