Mountain Education Charter High School provides a second chance opportunity for North Georgia students to earn an accredited high school diploma in an individualized, self-paced, evening public high school. The school serves students who have dropped out of high school or have failed one or more classes at their traditional day school. The public charter school assists students with graduating directly from Mountain Education Charter High School. The school also offers course recovery so students can graduate with their peers from their traditional high school.
The school began in 1993 in Union County as part of a three-county collaborative. The school was originally called Mountain Education Center. At that time, the graduation rate in the North Georgia counties served by Mountain Ed was 60 percent or under. The school was started to help to increase graduation rates for North Georgia counties. In its first school year, Mountain Ed had three graduates.
In 2007, the school became a state chartered special school. Five years later, the school officially changed its name to Mountain Education Charter High School. The school has now grown to 16 sites that serve more than 40 different counties. In addition, the graduation rates in the North Georgia counties the school currently serves have now climbed to 80 percent or above.
Most people see us as an extension of their services. We’re another program because we’re a
collaborative model. We’re not going in and trying to steal their kids,” says Assistant Superintendent Tracy Sanford. “We’re going in after those kids are not fitting in or are dropping out, so if we’re collecting those kids, it’s helping their graduation rate, especially big districts like Forsyth, Bartow and Hall.”
Dr. Wayne Lovell, Superintendent of Mountain Education Charter High School, says the school is a critical safety net.
“I feel like we’re really standing in the gap. If we were not here, many of these students would never finish high school,” says Dr. Lovell (pictured on the left). “They are aging out so quickly. We want to keep kids from dropping out and help local school districts raise their graduation rates.”
It’s a mission that is very personal to him.
“I myself was an at-risk child,” says Dr. Lovell. “I come from a family where my dad never finished high school, and to know that I’m impacting students that were like me is the greatest thing in the world.”
According to the state, the school has “Beat the Odds” for the past three years. “Beating the Odds” is a statistical analysis that is designed to illustrate how a school’s performance on Georgia’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) compares to schools with similar demographics. Mountain Education leaders also say the school typically beats the state average on progress points on the CCRPI. Progress points measure whether students are growing at a typical or high level compared to academically-similar students from across Georgia.
Mountain Education Charter High School uses a highly individualized approach. The school is able to reach and keep students on track through mentors, graduation coaches, counselors, progress reports, and an individual graduation plan for students. There is also a student database that tracks student progress and allows students and parents to see how much time is spent in the classroom. Students work with staff members to continuously set attendance and course progress goals.
Senior Will Miller came to Mountain Ed’s White County site after he learned that he was unlikely to graduate with his fellow students at his traditional high school (Miller is pictured on the right). Miller was told he would probably be a fifth-year senior.
“Things came up and I fell behind in my old school. It wasn’t looking like I was going to graduate from there. I heard about Mountain Ed and decided to take advantage of this opportunity,” says Miller. “I’m really happy I did. I’m on track to graduate in May, and I’m excited. I know it’s one step closer to my career.”
Miller says finishing high school will help him become a music education major.
“I think the teachers at Mountain Ed are tremendous, says Miller. My graduation coach helps and pushes me to stay that extra 15 minutes. She’s the reason I’m going to graduate.”
Educators at the school say stories like Miller’s are the reason they choose to teach at Mountain Education Charter High School. Teacher Tina Vandiver has taught at the school for more than eight years.
“I love the freedom they have to work on one class, get it finished and then work on another. I love that they are in control of their learning,” says Vandiver (pictured on the left). “That makes a difference. It makes it special when they finally meet the goal of graduation because many of them never thought they would finish.”
To make sure students cross that finish line, on-site staff members often make visits to the homes and workplaces of students. As an example, school administrators describe one case where a student was close to graduating but stopped coming to school. Staff members visited him at the grocery store where he worked and discovered he couldn’t come to class because he needed the money to help his family pay their bills. They were able to work with his employer to get him off one night a week. They also offered him a $10 gas card for every hour the student was in class to assist with his financial situation. As a result, the student graduated last May.