The Franklin County Schools drew in a crisp breath of fresh air just before Christmas when state data showed the high school’s graduation rate, stalled in Florida’s basement in 2014-15 at 49 percent, rose last year by nearly 24 percentage points.

In a Dec. 16 release from the Florida Department of Education, the data showed Franklin’s 2015-16 rate of 72.6 percent was the highest in the past five years.

The rate still remained about eight percentage points below the statewide graduation rate of 80.7 percent, which itself has steadily climbed, posting an increase of 21.5 percentage points since 2003-04 and 2.8 percentage points over last year.

“This shows that 49 percent really wasn’t good enough, and that our staff and everybody at the school level worked together to improve the graduation rate for our students, and we’ll continue that,” said Superintendent Traci Moses. ““It’s for the students, too, they need to be proud of their accomplishment.

“This calls for accountability with everybody. It takes all of us working together for students to graduate,” she said.

One key reason for the growth, from a rate of about 59 percent in 2011 through 2013, and just under 70 percent in 2013-14, has been an improved system of tracking student data.

Sue Summers, director of special programs, said a graduation team, comprising intervention specialists, guidance counselors and teachers, met every two weeks with students as high-risk, and encourage them to take advantage of methods that would enable them to secure their diplomas,

Intervention specialists Laura King and Leigh Smith, guidance counselors Roderick Robinson and Melanie Copeland, and teachers whose duties include preparing students for assessments, shared with students strategies on how they could opt for early graduation with 18 credit hours.

“That encouraged a great many of them to stay with us and take an 18-credit option,” Summers said.

Or students were shown how they take an alternative assessment to the end-of-course exams, in order to meet diploma requirements.

“I think it just took somebody paying a little attention to them,” Summers said.

Moses said she has directed Robinson, the high school guidance counselor, to meet this month with parents of students at risk of not graduating.

“You want parents to be aware of all the ways to solve this,” said the superintendent. “We need to be giving them solutions.”

Moses said the hiring this fall of Richie Herrington to coordinate student data as head of information systems helped to better track student data, a key tool for closing gaps found among at-risk students.

She’s asked Robinson to meet this month with parents of at-risk students, and is tightening deadlines so as to more closely monitor data on high school students . “You can’t wait until crunch time,” said Moses.

The superintendent also stressed that the ongoing effort to incorporate more vocational problems into the curriculum, such as with building trades, will lead to keeping more students who are struggling in school.

“That would motivate them to want to have a high school diploma and not to drop it,” said Moses. “It offers them a path to success beyond high school.”

The graduation rate measures the percentage of students who graduate within four years of their first enrollment in ninth grade. The rate, calculated for that group of students on the same schedule to graduate, takes into account those who enter or exit the group.

The rate only considers standard diploma recipients as graduates. Students who earn a special diploma, a GED-based diploma, a certificate of completion, or have been retained and are still in school after four years are counted as non-completers in the calculation.