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Gwinnett's graduate rates top state's

LAWRENCEVILLE - Although Georgia's high school graduation rate for the 2005-06 school year surpassed 70 percent for the first time in state history, Gwinnett County Public Schools has had a graduation rate of at least 70 percent for the past four years, officials said.

The graduation rate in Buford City Schools has also surpassed the state average, with 88 percent of students graduating in 2006 and 88.8 percent graduating in 2005.

Barrow County schools, however, have a graduation rate just shy of the state average. In 2006, the system had a graduation rate of 69 percent. In 2005, 67.4 percent of Barrow County students graduated, compared to 69.4 percent in the state.

Gov. Sonny Perdue said the overall result "is not good enough" but shows steady improvement since he took office in 2003, when only 63.3 percent of Georgia students graduated from public high schools within four years.

"Is that where we want to be? No," Perdue said in a speech Thursday to the Georgia Economic Developers Association. "But that's moving forward. These numbers are extremely difficult to move."

Sloan Roach, Gwinnett County Public Schools spokeswoman, said Gwinnett has seen an increase in graduation rates since 2003 as well.

In 2006, 73.8 percent of students graduated, and in 2005, 74.8 percent of students graduated, Roach said. In 2003, the graduation rate was 70.4 percent.

"Even as Gwinnett has grown, adding students and becoming more diverse socioeconomically, our graduation rates have remained above the state," Roach said in a prepared statement. "While we're proud of our students' past success, we will continue our work to help more students earn their high school diplomas."

Roach said the schools' initiatives to help students achieve academic success and the new graduation coaches will continue to help Gwinnett's graduation rate.

Traci Hamby, a counselor at Buford High School, said the high school's small size allows teachers to give more personal attention to the students, which helps contribute to the higher graduation rate.

"Because we're a small school, we have an opportunity to better teach our students and better advise our students," Hamby said.

Barrow school spokeswoman Lisa Leighton did not immediately return voice mail messages seeking comment about the county's graduation rate.

The 70.8 percent rate cited by Perdue was compiled by the state Department of Education and the Governor's Office of Student Achievement. The National Center for Education Statistics, which looks at all the states, does not have its own graduation figures available yet for this year.

A July report by the center said only Nevada and South Carolina had lower graduation rates than Georgia in the 2003-04 school year, though no data was available for New York and Wisconsin.

Perdue promised more progress. He said 336 graduation coaches started work at Georgia high schools this fall to encourage at-risk students to earn their diplomas.

"We've just begun focusing our attention like a laser on graduation rates," Perdue said. "Seventy percent is not good enough for a state like Georgia, with as much promise and potential as we have."

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.