The national graduation rate currently sits at 84 percent, an all-time high. This year, Communities In Schools (CIS) honored LaToya Montague and Richard Proffitt, two advocates who exemplify being “all in for kids,” going above and beyond in their efforts to keep kids in school. These two leaders work in two very different communities. LaToya was born and raised in Wake County, North Carolina, a wealthy urban community of just over one million where half of all adults hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Richard is the superintendent in Chanute, Kansas, a rural community home to just under ten thousand where only about three-fourths of adults have a high school degree.
Both communities face similar challenges related to poverty: kids who drop out because they need to work; kids who must take care of younger siblings or sick family members; kids who have untreated health problems of their own that keep them out of school; or kids who are afraid to walk through their neighborhoods due to violence. Despite these challenges, Chanute’s graduation rate clocks in at 95 percent and Wake County at 89.1 percent. Both higher than the Kansas and North Carolina graduation rates, 90 percent and 87.9 percent, respectively.
What sets Wake County and Chanute apart? They have people like LaToya and Richard who’ve leveraged relationships and funding to implement strategic dropout prevention initiatives that address the whole child, and not just as a student.
Wake County, North Carolina, regularly tops “Best Schools” lists. But 2018 All In For Students alumna award recipient LaToya Montague represents and advocates for a different part of Wake County—those attending un-awarded schools and living in poverty. LaToya first came to CIS through a community center in her public housing community. During this time, only 1 in 3 students graduated from her local high school.
LaToya’s counselors and mentor quickly realized her academic and leadership potential, and soon she was not only on track in class but was a peer leader and youth advisor within CIS of Wake County. After graduating from North Carolina State University, LaToya returned to CIS of Wake County as a Weekend Program Coordinator, where she facilitated learning center activities and helped students prepare for tests and do their homework. She was soon promoted to managing the learning center and then to Volunteer Manager for the entirety of CIS of Wake County. Now as the Executive Director of CIS of Wake County, LaToya still leverages the relationships she’s developed since her days as a student leader to strategically enhance academic and behavioral programming and make connections to bring in more volunteers and mentors.
LaToya’s ability to make people feel seen, heard, and like they matter is at the crux of her success. Her relationships and experience at every level of Communities In Schools helps her to understand and to seamlessly involve the perspectives of her various constituents, from students, parents, and teachers, to principals, funders, and corporate partners in order to best serve the students of Wake County.
Chanute, Kansas is a rural community with a population of approximately nine thousand people. It is the most impoverished region in the state, yet its graduation rate is higher than the state average at 95 percent. How is this possible in a community where only three-fourths of adults hold high school diplomas and the average household annual income is below 40 thousand? One reason is a superintendent who leverages funding, brings in the right community partners, and invests in mental and physical health.
Richard Proffitt, recipient of the 2018 All In for Students superintendent award, partnered with Communities In Schools of Mid America to bring in a community health center that has so far provided dental care to approximately 150 elementary school students. He also brought in a state-wide healthy lifestyle initiative that focuses on student education and a local mental health center to implement district-wide school-based behavioral health programming. Superintendent Proffitt has also forged partnerships with local community colleges and college-prep organizations to ensure students have access to academic and planning resources as they consider their futures.
Superintendent Proffitt has not only allocated more funding from the district for Communities In Schools of Mid America, he’s also committed to identifying additional dollars to expand CIS into the local middle school, which would fully saturate the community and ensure every Chanute student has access to health care and to academic assistance.