COLUMBIA -“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” is a famous Fredrick Douglass quote that Eryca Neville, principal of Douglass High School, re-quoted to me Tuesday.
She used the quote to help explain how Douglass' graduation rate has increased by more than 45% in the last 6 years.
Neville said that small class sizes, high expectations and her staff has been the largest contributing factor to her student's success.
“We have a staff that has been together for six years now. We originally started out with a school improvement grant because we were deemed a priority school based off our low graduation rate when I came to this position. And I just pound for pound I have the best staff in the state,” Neville said.
Douglass High School provides an alternative option for students. The enrollment number fluctuates based on whether or not students qualify to attend. It does not have a specific attendance area.
Dr. Neville also said that the $6.6 million renovation helped, “It added action to lip service when we say that we really want to support our struggling students,” Neville said. “We believe in you enough to invest.”
The renovations included a culinary kitchen, science labs, new restrooms, floors, classrooms, and technology labs.
The school's graduation rate was 24% in 2011 but 71% in 2017.
Although Douglass has had the highest improvement rate, all high schools in CPS have experienced improvements in graduation rates.
Michelle Baumstark, CPS Spokeswoman said, “We have an emphasis on all of our students succeeding, we also have an emphasis on them graduating and being college and career ready.”
Programs like AVID and MAC Scholars have contributed to the increase in other high schools in the district.
According to the CPS website,"the purpose of the MAC Program is to increase the number of historically under-represented students in Columbia Public School’s most rigorous course work, honors and advanced placement courses. The program’s goal is to ensure college and career readiness for students from cradle to career."
The AVID program seeks to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society. Students will accomplish this by succeeding in a rigorous curriculum, entering mainstream activities of the school and increasing enrollment in four year colleges.
CPS also has AP courses and dual credit to allow students to graduate high school with college credit.