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To Raise High School Graduation Rates, Chattanooga Boosts Early Childhood

Early intervention and instruction programs are implemented with the hope of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.

Chattanooga As one of the leading states in graduation rates for low-income students, Tennessee is dedicated to making sure quality education doesn’t depend on income. Low-income students currently graduate at a rate of 80.7 percent, just 5.7 percentage points lower than the statewide average. Tennessee is determined to close that gap entirely.

“We need to get serious about helping kids regardless of their zip code and race,” said Hamilton County School District Superintendent Rick Smith at the GradNation Education Summit in Chattanooga on July 20.

The summit provided a way for local community leaders in Chattanooga to better align resources to reach the GradNation goal of a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate for all students by 2020.

“We’re the pioneers,” Smith said. “We are the ones who have to get out and expand this conversation into the community.”

In order to improve high school graduation rates, summit leaders said that focusing on early childhood education is key.

“Early childhood literacy is a major steppingstone on the path to education success and high school graduation,” said Eva Dillard, CEO of the United Way of Greater Chattanooga, in a press release. “Reading to children is the best way to build the vocabulary they need to succeed in school.”

By supplying free, age-appropriate books and “learning checkups” each month for children under five, the United Way’s Project Ready for School aims to help more low-income students access pre-K education.

"There is a strong correlation between the number of books in the home and literary skills (of children in the home)," Project Ready for School Project Director Anna Gamble said.

In order to reach 90 percent by 2020, the school district will need to graduate an additional 600 students per year, according to Senior Policy Analyst at Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center Joanna Fox. To help teachers and childcare providers find ways to reach those students, the summit offered workshops on early childhood education, foundational literacy, the transition to middle school and to techniques to keep students in school through graduation.

“We are formalizing a plan to move forward together,” said Jamie Bergmann of United Way of Greater Chattanooga. “This day is just the start.”

About the GradNation Community Summits:

As part of the GradNation campaign to reach a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020 and encourage dramatic increases in postsecondary enrollment and graduation, America’s Promise Alliance is working with community partners across the country to host 100 community summits through 2016.

Each community summit convenes multi-sector leaders to identify challenges facing young people in their communities and develop strategies to address them. To learn more about community summits or find one in your area, visit our community summits page online.