Tuesday, November 29, 2016


As we return from Thanksgiving and prepare to close out the first semester of the 2016-2017 school year, it is important to take time to celebrate the greatness that occurs in our classrooms, on our playing fields, and in our community each day.  Please take a look at just a few of the amazing results of our young people, our teachers, our leaders, and our board of education listed below.  If you would like to add to this impressive list please post your thoughts on our blog at www.oconeeschools.org.
·         Congratulations to all of our students and teachers for posting the highest graduation rate in the history of Oconee County Schools (95.6%).

·         Congratulations to all of our students and teachers for earning the #1 SAT (1603) and #2 ACT (23.8) scores in the state of Georgia.

·         Congratulations to the Oconee County Board of Education for being named a 2016 Exemplary Board by the Georgia School Boards Association. 

·         Congratulations to Dr. Paige Cole for being named the Oconee County Schools Teacher of the Year.

·         Congratulations to MBES and HSES for being named 2016 Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence.

·         Congratulations to OCES, OCPS, and OCMS for being named 2016 Title I Highest Performing Reward Schools.

·         Congratulations to OCS for being one of only six school systems in Georgia named to the Advanced Placement Honor Roll.

·         Congratulations to OCS for being one of only four school districts in Georgia named a Title I Reward District and earning a $50,000 grant for our students.

·         Congratulations to our students and school communities for assisting others by donating over 30,000 cans to the ACTS food drive.

·         Congratulations to the OCHS (sweet sixteen) and NOHS (sweet sixteen) volleyball teams for great seasons.

·         Congratulations to the OCHS (elite eight) softball team on a tremendous season.

·         Congratulations to the NOHS and OCHS girls cross country teams for great seasons—NOHS (region champs and 5th in the state) and OCHS (6th in the state).

·         Congratulations to the NOHS competition cheerleading team for winning a region championship and placing 9th in the state championships.

·         Congratulations to the NOHS and OCHS boys cross country teams for great seasons— OCHS (4th in the state) and NOHS (5th in the state).

·         Congratulations to the OCHS football team for making the state playoffs.

·         Congratulations to all of our schools for their numerous achievements in and out of the classroom. The accomplishments are endless and cannot be fully listed—what a great problem to have.  As I close out this column, singing the praises of our students and schools, I want to take a minute to thank each of you, our parents and community members, for the huge role you play in the achievements listed above.  I hope that you will take as much pride in reading them as I did writing them. Enjoy the remaining days of the semester and as always I would appreciate hearing your thoughts about our amazing students at jbranch@oconeeschools.org.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Highest ever ...

Highest ever!  That refrain has been sounded multiple times this year with regard to Oconee County Schools.  Highest-ever SAT scores, #1 in the state of Georgia and a 49 point increase in the last three years; Highest-ever student enrollment, over 7500 students and a growth of 1000 kids in the last four years.  Now, our students, teachers, parents, and community members can celebrate yet another milestone marked by the “highest-ever” mantra—highest-ever graduation rate! 

The Georgia Department of Education released the 2016 graduation rates for the state of Georgia and individual school districts on November 1.  Oconee County Schools was once again a leader in the state.  Yet, the most exciting metric is not the measurable achievement versus other districts, but the comparison of OCS students’ achievements past and present.  Our students achieved their highest graduation rate ever at an astounding 95.6 percent.  This achievement is even more impressive when you take into account that the record had just been broken last year by the class of 2015 with a 93.6 percent graduation rate.  In fact, in the last five years OCS students have improved the overall graduation rate over five percentage points—no small feat once you eclipse the 90 percent threshold. 

Is there any doubt why we continue to see record growth in our schools, which leads to record growth in our community?  I think not.  People want to be a part of something special and our teachers, students, parents, and school leaders are creating that each day in all ten of our outstanding schools.

Oconee County High School and North Oconee High School, perennially listed as two of America’s Best High Schools, saw tremendous individual increases over last year’s graduation rate.  NOHS increased 2.2 percent to reach 95.1 percent and OCHS reached new heights by improving 2 percent to 95.5 percent.  These numbers far outpaced the state and national average.
Georgia’s public high school graduation rate rose from 78.8 percent in 2015 to 79.2 percent in 2016. The national average also increased to 82 percent.

This is the sixth year Georgia has calculated the graduation rate using a new formula – known as the adjusted cohort rate – now required by the U.S. Department of Education. The four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate defines the cohort based on when a student first becomes a freshman; it is calculated using the number of students who graduate within four years and includes adjustments for student transfers. In contrast, Georgia’s former graduation rate calculation defined the cohort upon graduation, which may have included students who took more than four years to graduate.

Our students are setting the pace for the state and rewriting the record books.  They are moving the needle farther and faster and are charting a course for success that others can follow.  But that is just the opinion of their proud superintendent! Let me know what you think of this tremendous accomplishment at jbranch@oconeeschools.org.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Student enrollment at an all-time high

The secret is out!  Oconee County Schools (OCS), perennially ranked as one of the state of Georgia’s top school districts and increasingly mentioned as one of the nation’s best, is being discovered by families from all over the United States.  Parents and students are searching for and finding Oconee County Schools, which offers a world-class education with a small-town feel.  Nestled just fifteen minutes from the University of Georgia, and boasting a STEM-certified elementary school, a National School of Character, a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, and two high schools ranked in the top two percent of schools in America, Oconee County is quickly becoming an educational destination for families seeking an innovative education in a traditional down-home setting. 

As late as 2003, the total enrollment of Oconee County Schools did not reach 6,000 students (5,802), but as the year 2020 quickly approaches that enrollment is conservatively slated to peek at over 8,300 students.  Total enrollment grew over 1,000 students in a ten-year span from 2003-2013, roughly 500 students from 2013-2016, and is projected to grow 1,000 more students as we approach 2020.  Last year alone saw an increase of 4 percent at the start of the 2015-2016 school year, or nearly 300 new students.  Early student numbers in 2016-2017 reflect a similar growth of 3.5 percent, or over 250 students. Overall, student enrollment is up over 700 students (11 percent) from just three years ago—the equivalent of one school!  This trend is expected to continue and will undoubtedly strain the school district’s current facilities.

As students began the 2016-2017 school year, they found three of our ten schools at or over capacity—RBES, MBES, and OCHS.  By 2020, five of our ten schools will be at or over capacity, and by 2025 all ten of our schools will be at or over capacity—assuming nothing is done.  Earlier this year, however, the Oconee County Board of Education and system leaders demonstrated their recognition of the needed facility enhancements to address growth and adopted a new five-year facility plan.  This plan calls for the construction of a new elementary school and provides for additions at OCHS.  To fund these needed classrooms, the BOE passed a resolution to put an Educational Special Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) referendum on the November 8th ballot.  These additional classrooms should assist in meeting the needs of our students for years to come and easing the capacity concerns.  

Below is a chart of first-day student enrollment numbers for the last five years.   

First-Day Enrollment

As always, I am interested in your thoughts about this record student growth and the plan our school system has in place to meet our classroom needs.  Please email me your thoughts at jbranch@oconeeschools.org or speak to me in person when you see me in our schools.