A new academic year is just days away from starting, but Roanoke City Schools Superintendent Rita Bishop is already looking ahead to next year's graduation.
"It is our responsibility as counselors, as superintendents, as outreach workers to find the student and give them the support they need to stay in school,” said Bishop.
Graduation rates fluctuate because of things like substance abuse and teen pregnancy. Bishop said it’s a reality for a lot of students within the city's school system.
Bishop said a graduation rate can say a lot about a school district and that’s why school leaders have been going above and beyond to make sure students walk across the stage with a diploma in hand at the end of the year.
Less than 10 years ago, Roanoke’s public schools had a graduation rate in the 50s. This past school year produced an 82 percent graduation rate.
"I'm glad,” said Bishop. “I don't think it’s good enough."
Bishop said the 18 percent shortfall is the result of a higher pregnancy rate among high school students, substance abuse, parental negligence and incarceration among students.
Roanoke city leaders met with the school board on Monday to talk about ways to keep the graduation rate increasing. Most agreed it's not an easy task.
"The city can't do it alone,” said Roanoke City Council member Bill Bestpitch. “The schools can't do it alone, but if we work with everybody in the community, who is involved in those issues, then I think we can make a lot of progress."
Bestpitch is talking about groups like Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare and Total Action for Progress, but Bishop said there's more to the problem than just those societal factors.
"I think some students just give up and that is one of the problems in all urban environment that students just don't see the value of an education," she said.
Bishop said the school system tries to address each student's problems one at a time. She said it is key to making sure the rate increases instead of decreases.
"I'm sure when I get it to 90, I'll want it to be 92 and then we will see,” said Bishop.
Another issue the school system deals with is tracking students that leave the school system. Bishop said a student will move either in or out of state and when they enroll in a new school it will ask Roanoke city for records.
Bishop said the district has "disappearing" students, which means the student moves and doesn't enroll in a new school. If that's the case, it can still have a negative effect on the city's graduation rate.
Bishop is also looking to keep a popular summer program within the city's school system.
RCPS Plus program started two years ago and was implemented to prevent a long-term break in learning during summer break.
Bishops said it just wrapped up after six weeks and she is already pushing for a third year.
The program is made up of an enriched curriculum and is taught by some of the best teachers in the district.
Bishop said the program is so important because students tend to be more prepared for the start of a new school year.
“Learning really is fun and that's what they see,” she said when asked why the students enjoy the program so much. “I'm really hoping that will translate to more joyful learning during the school year."
The school system uses money designated for the old summer school program to help pay for RCPS Plus.
Bishop said it costs about a million dollars. She hopes to get funding from outside resources, if they can't fund it within the district.