The Henry County Board of Education’s meeting Thursday revealed that students in the school system performed better than the state average in curriculum testing and achievement in the 2020-21 school year.

While some academic dropoff was to be expected because of the presence of COVID-19 during the school year, a district data presentation by David Kibbler, director of student management for the system, showed that the percentage of students who participated in spring testing, about 97%, and the success rate in overall test scores, about 28%, exceeded the state average for schools during the school year.

The school system also had a percentage of chronically absent students, who miss 18 or more days of school, that was lower than the state average, and a 98% graduation rate, higher than the state average as well.

“Our dropout rate is actually under one percent, far better than the state average, which is over six percent,” said Kibbler. “Last year we had challenges that we had never faced before as educators, but the fact we’re over the state average in every category shows we’ve got some really great things going on in our school buildings.”

The county system also had a percentage of students deemed ready for life after graduation, about 53%, that was above the state average. Henry County High School principal Michele Webb explained that a student can earn that title based on various things including scores for the ACT and Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) tests, secondary learning credits such as AP classes or dual enrollment courses and industrial certifications.

Though that number is higher than the state average, Tom Beasley, school board chairman, showed concern for that number still seeming low.

Kibbler shared the notion that the school system still needs to improve in those areas.

“These are great things to celebrate but we have a focus and we’re not where we want to be,” said Kibbler. “It’s great that we’re better than the state average but we still need to strengthen student achievement. We still need to bring that chronically absent number down and try to get all of our students in those seats.”

In other meeting business:

• Two HCHS seniors from what will be the first graduating class of the system’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program spoke during the meeting.

AVID is an educational program that was founded nationally in the 1980s and was instituted locally by Grove School students during the 2018-19 school year. Those founders were represented at the meeting by Terriann Ray and Melinda Thornton, both now HCHS seniors, and Dave Huber, a social studies teacher at HCHS.

They each talked about how the AVID program can ease the progression throughout high school and build confidence preparing for college.

“It’s not just an opportunity to help us be ready for college, it’s a family. It’s helped me be confident, helped me be able to speak in front of people and the teachers help us connect with one another,” said Ray.

The program, which has roughly 150 students and several teachers involved, has a focus on developing skills within students that build confidence that they’re capable of more difficult classes and coursework. They do this by building a support group for students who might not receive the affirmation that builds confidence.

“It’s about taking teachers that care about students and equipping them with resources, then working day-by-day with students. One day it’s helping them with schoolwork, then it might be dealing with personal issues at home,” said Huber.

The program is continuing to grow at Grove and HCHS and it could eventually be spread to middle schools as well.

• Director of Schools Leah Watkins acknowledged a resolution for the county school system to pay for damages done to Harding Road during the recent construction on Patriot Stadium.

“All of the construction trucks and vehicles going off and on Harding Road tore the road up a good bit. This sort of thing is typical in a construction project like this, so we’ve agreed to pay the City of Paris for repairs on the road,” said Watkins.

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