The Nation's Governors Make High School Reform Top Priority

February 28, 2005--Posted at 5:30 p.m. CST

JONESBORO-- High school reform topped the agenda at the National Governors' Meeting, and local schools are gearing up to increase graduation rates and prepare students for the workforce.

"Our graduation rate was 96.8 percent and that compared to a 93.7 percent state wide so we're above state standards but there's always need for improvement," Westside High School Superintendent Jim Best says.

Westside High may have high percentages, but the Nettleton School District says the popularity of the GED program has effected their graduation rates.

They say that in the State of Arkansas, students who obtain a GED are counted as drop outs.

"We will have a number of students each year that will get their GED, and we allow them to do that because if we didn't, they would drop out," Nettleton High School Principal Carroll Thetford says.

However, other school officials say that GED standards are more difficult that in past years making it equivalent to a high school diploma.

"It's not an option anymore that's fairly easy to obtain if a child decides to go that route vs. a high school diploma. The overall expectations are increasing with both a GED and a high school diploma," Best says.

Despite the State's tremendous progress over the last couple of years, the government also finds it necessary to make sure that high school students are prepared for the workforce.

Dr. Best says students have a unique opportunity to prepare for the workforce through the Craighead County Area Technical Center.

"They have some really neat opportunities to work in the summer while they're going through and also national programs that will help them work in the specific trade or vocation," Best says.

But some educators say that a strong educational background, along with the addition of advanced cources, can easily prepare a child for the road ahead.

"They need additional training after they get out of high school, but if they have the reading skills, the language skills, the math skills, they should be able to go into some kind of specialized training," Thetford says.

The school reform program will be called "Next Step," and a high school summitt will be held at the Little Rock State Convention Center on April 4.