As the students turned their tassels from left to right, the class became the most successful in a very long time.
“This is a very special group to me,” LHS principal Mike Culberson said. “I can remember these kids just like my own (kids). I can remember when they didn’t want to get out of the car their first day of classes in first grade. Then in middle school at that time when they think they have grown up. Finally, to come up here this year and be a part of their life again and actually see them turning into young adults, it has truly been a special year.”
The 2012 class has faced many changes in the past seven years, becoming the first group of students at the Sixth-Grade Academy.
They also faced new math standards, curriculum changes, a new Freshman Academy at LHS, two changes to the block scheduling and new testing requirements.
A rare perspective
The majority of the 2012 LHS graduates had Culberson as a principal at LaFayette Middle School. He was even an assistant principal for some during first grade at North LaFayette Elementary.
More than 78 percent (241 students) of the class received their diplomas from Culberson in Jack King Stadium on Friday night, June 1, already a six percent improvement from 2011.
The 2012 class has earned $1,789,600 in scholarships, including nearly 80 students who are eligible for the Hope scholarship. There are 153 seniors who have been accepted to post-secondary schools, more than 63 percent of the graduates.
Culberson has celebrated each student’s acceptance letter during the morning announcements.
Another educator who has witnessed the students’ improvements is Maggie Stultz, currently the LHS graduation coach and college advisor.
“When Mrs. Mathis gave me this opportunity, she let me spend the final year with the class I had started with at the (Sixth-Grade) Academy,” Stultz said. “I could not have hoped for a better year, with it being such a celebration of their accomplishments.”
Stultz has showcased each acceptance with a poster in the commons announcing the college they plan to attend.
The recognition has made role models out of the college-bound teens and served to motivate classmates to look toward their future.
“I told Mike (Culberson) that the graduation rate would be 80 percent,” Stultz said upon beginning in June 2011.
Her prediction will come true if 11 of 20 students complete credit recovery or pass summer school re-testing.
Stultz has set up a student computer terminal for testing in her office where she frequently has students working toward staying on track to graduate through credit recovery.
Thirty-one percent of the students are the first in their family to graduate, according to Stultz.
“She has several kids that would not have made it (to graduation) if they hadn’t spent hours in her room,” Culberson said.
“Those kids are the ones smiling today because they (were able) to walk at graduation,” Stultz said.
Those 20 students still have an opportunity, until July 26, to improve the official graduation rate and receive a diploma during summer graduation.
This level of achievement will become a new benchmark for Walker County school system and future seniors.
To alleviate overcrowding at LMS and some long-needed renovations led to the creation of the Sixth-Grade Academy, located at 301 N. Cherokee St.
The middle school was revitalized a section at a time to avoid interrupting school operations.
Separating each middle school grade level has helped students identify with their classmates, allowing for bonding and negating the challenges an age range that can span from young 11-year-olds to 16-year-olds.
Despite some initial trepidation, parents have grown to strongly support the Sixth-Grade Academy concept, according to Culberson.
The first year result at the Academy was a 22 percent drop in discipline referrals and an increase in attendance when instituted in 2005.
The grade-level teams were specifically mixed to blend the students from four separate elementary schools.
“One of the things we really tried to work on, since (LMS) is comprised of four feeder schools, is building a class family,” Stultz said. “We see that they have been able to keep that bond seven years later and be supportive of one another.”
The same diversity and familiarization will occur once the Sixth-Grade Academy closes.
One third of each grade level at LMS and the Sixth-Grade Academy will be attending Saddle Ridge Elementary and Middle School as the Academy is closed.
Both middle schools will use separate wings to maintain the grade-level development.
The CRCT test scores also became the best in more than a decade, according to Stultz.
Stultz was the administrator as the Sixth-Grade Academy opened in fall 2005. She was recently promoted to assistant principal at LHS.
"It has always been a TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) effort from those days back in 2005 when these, now young adults, were just 11-year-old children, wide-eyed and scared, looking ahead into the wide world that was just beginning to open up to them one year at a time,” Stultz said. “That team effort spilled over from LMS to LHS, where the high school staff has taken up the initial charge to make it happen and help to drive that philosophy home. LHS grads, yes we can."