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Douglass High to launch off-site 9th grade academy to improve graduation rates

Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 5:36 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Atlanta’s Frederick Douglass High School is reframing how it does the 9th grade.

This August, the incoming freshman class will be moving around the corner to the old Margaret Fain Elementary Building that’s being renamed the Frederick Douglass 9th Grade STEAM Academy.

“We are projected to have 300-350 first-time ninth-graders here in this building,” said Forrestella Taylor, the principal of Douglass High School.

Once ranked as a national school of excellence, Douglass High School has been plagued by academic and social issues. The school currently has the lowest graduation rate in the Atlanta Public School System at 69 percent. Ninth graders are most vulnerable to dropouts and class failure.

Plans to open the school this summer were presented to the school board this week.

“By the time they reach the 9th grade at Douglass High School, there is a shift that is happening that is sending them on a different trajectory,” said Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education Chair Eshe Collins. She says the school leaders are on an engagement campaign to inform parents of the upcoming changes.

Many students at Douglass face challenges from peer pressure from peers and older students to challenges at home and in the classroom. The 9th grade is challenging for students nationwide, but the surrounding socio-economic environment of the school, coupled with the pandemic, has made some statistics worse, school leaders tell CBS46.

“We have what we call the 9th-grade bulge. When students enter the 9th grade, that is usually our most difficult year for any student K through 12,” said Tammie Roach, the program administrator for the Frederick Douglass High School 9th Grade STEAM Academy.

Of the 250 first-time freshmen currently at Douglass, each is failing one or more classes. About 150 of that group are repeating the 9th grade, some for the second and third time.

Roach and Taylor say that many drop out. They hope the more intimate environment will make a difference.

“The teachers are going to be a little more hands-on so we will have a little more guiding,” Roach tells CBS46. “It’s not going to be 8th grade. It is going to be high school, but at the same time, we want to get them ready. We want to help mold them into the successful high school students that they can be.”

The goal of the new off-site academy is to ultimately capture 9th graders to improve graduation rates and attendance and discipline.

“What Douglass High School also has is some of the most phenomenal students that you will ever see but many of our students are struggling because of those factors, attendance, out-of-school suspension, and course failures,” Taylor said. “If we can get ahead of this curve, we can do some great things as far as turning this ship around for Douglass.”

Taylor’s goal is to, once again, make Douglass High a national school of excellence.