CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - Did you know that out of almost a thousand high schools in the state of Georgia, only seven had a 100 percent graduation rate this year?
And one of those schools is in Chatham County.
Woodville-Tompkins High School in Savannah graduated its first class of seniors this year, and all 76 crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.
Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools improved overall this year, beating the state average with an 81 percent graduation rate, but Woodville-Tompkins is no doubt a shining star in the district. If you ask the school's principal, though, he'll tell you it's about more than just a percentage.
"But when you walk across the stage that you have a plan, that there is something in place for you," said Alfred McGuire, the school's principal.
Whether its college or a technical career, the faculty and staff at Woodville-Tompkins are focused on tailoring the classroom experience to each student's goals.
A major part of that equation: make the subject matter relevant to students' lives.
"Make it hands on and to show them how this is going to apply to us in the real world when we graduate," said history and business teacher Bert Blocker. "And students respond to that, students get excited about, 'Okay, I see why I need to do this.'"
The school offers a variety of pathway programs that prepare students for careers from financial management and engineering to nursing and public safety. But it's not just the curriculum that's
When McGuire walks the halls, you can see the connection he has with students. He's seen as an authority figure but also as a friend, and that attitude carries over into the classroom, too.
"The teachers here, they actually care," said 9th grader Andre Massey. "If you don't get it, the whole class don't get it. We're going to go back and walk through this together. We start together so we're going to end together."
Massey has had a number of opportunities at the school already. He recently won a trip to the nation's capital because of his poetry writing. The freshman accepted a national arts and youth humanities award from First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House last month.
At his school, Principal McGuire says the key is establishing a culture that graduating is the standard, and he sets that expectation from day one.
"As a matter of fact in the first assembly with the 9th grade students I say, 'how many of you plan to not graduate?' And all of them look around like, 'Is he serious?' And I'm like, 'Okay, so everyone in this room plans to graduate.' So then the goal becomes: once you graduate, what are we going to do after that?" said McGuire.
He believes schools need an increased emphasis on career-focused education overall. And while his school can serve as a model for others, McGuire says Woodville-Tompkins always has room to grow as well.