Alumni and parents with ties to Garinger High School expressed dismay over newly released state figures tagging the school with the worst on-time graduation rate in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Data released Thursday by N.C. education officials showed the school's four-year graduation rate in 2008 stood at just 40.3 percent, down from 64.3 percent the year before. No other CMS high school had rates below 50 percent.
“It's certainly cause for concern,” said school board member George Dunlap. Garinger's numbers were so much lower that he questioned whether there might have been some sort of reporting error.
Garinger, on Charlotte's east side, has struggled for years with low-achievement levels. Aging graduates from the 1960s remember it as a stable school filled with middle-class families, but Garinger's academic struggles have deepened with poverty rates in surrounding neighborhoods.
In recent years, about two-thirds of its 1,800 students have come from low-income backgrounds. Last school year, fewer than half of its students registered passing grades on state End-of-Course tests. A judge threatened in 2006 to close Garinger and three other low-scoring Charlotte high schools.
Two years ago, officials began breaking Garinger into five smaller, themed schools. The old comprehensive high school, which opened in 1959, will graduate its last class of seniors this coming school year.
Shelley Hinton, principal of “Garinger proper,” as she calls it, said she's new to the school and hasn't yet been able to research the poor graduation rate. But she said she plans to work closely with her seniors and their parents to keep them on track to graduate.
“That was then and this is now,” she said of the school's subpar graduation record. “I'm very optimistic.”
One CMS official suggested Garinger's graduation rate might not be as bad as it appears. State officials measure the on-time graduation rate by tracking groups of rising ninth-graders through to graduation. When Garinger began splintering into multiple schools two years ago, “Garinger proper” lost some of its graduates to the smaller campuses.
That might make Garinger's graduation rate appear worse than it is, said Christopher Cobitz, director of assessment for CMS.
Judging from a handful of interviews Friday, parents, alumni and former teachers think the numbers paint an accurate picture of the school's troubles.
The parent of one student in Garinger's New Technology High said he's not happy with the school's low test scores and lack of parent participation, but sends his daughter there because it's close to home and he isn't able to send her to Harding or Mallard Creek, like some of his neighbors have done with their kids.
“I've seen students cutting school, hanging out in the locker room,” said the father, who didn't want to give his name because his comments might be held against his daughter. “They say Garinger used to be one of the top schools, but it's really fallen.”
A Garinger alumna and former Garinger teacher who didn't want her name used, out of fear of professional repercussions, called the graduation rate “ridiculous” and said the school ought to be reorganized with a focus on pushing students through to diplomas.
Scott Yamanashi, a West Charlotte High social studies teacher, said he taught at Garinger in 2004. He said the resegregation of schools in the post-busing era has left inner-city schools struggling with too many students who arrive unprepared or unwilling to handle high school work.
“It's not just specific to Garinger,” he said. “You've got this continual, vicious cycle of poverty and lack of involvement.”
Alicia Jolla, senior class president of the Garinger Class of 1999, said the student-body demographics might have changed since she was in school. She said she received a good education there, and wants to help it improve.
“As an alum, I almost question what we can do differently,” she said. “I wonder if we've done enough to support the school.”