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Union Academy plays vital role in countywide education in Macon 

During the January meeting of the Macon County Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin recognized Nantahala (5 students), Macon Early College (39 students), and Highlands (33 students) for having 100 percent graduation rate last year, and Franklin High School ( 224 students) for having a 98.1 percent graduation rate. 

The graduation rate is determined by the number of students who entered school four years and graduated four years later. Macon County Schools had a 95.4 percent graduation rate — while North Carolina as a whole had a graduation rate of 87.6 percent. 

Union Academy was not recognized by the board of education, but finished last school year with a 73 percent graduation rate, graduating 41 students. Looking at students at Union Academy paints the most comprehensive picture of the overall reality of graduation rates for Macon County. 

Unlike the other schools in the county, Union Academy does not have its own school district — but rather serves as the county’s alternative school serving students located anywhere in Macon County.   Alternative schools exist in order to serve students who are academically at-risk. These students may be at-risk academically due to attendance, behavior, and/or emotional factors.

“Union Academy is unlike any of our other schools (with the possible exception of MEC) in that virtually all students who enroll at UA do so by transferring from another school, most from Franklin High School,” said Macon County Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin. “We have had a few students who have transferred from MMS to Union Academy and then entered 9th grade at UA, but these situations rarely occur. Union Academy attempts to get struggling students back on track by the end of 8th grade, and we believe it is important to give those students the opportunity to begin high school at FHS.”

73 percent of students enrolling in the ninth grade completed high school in 4 years by graduating from Union Academy.  Most of the students graduating from UA began ninth grade at Franklin High School, but due to being identified as high risk at some point in their high school career, the student was transferred to Union Academy. 

“Union Academy is an alternative school, this means it does not have its own district to pull students from as do FHS, Nantahala and Highlands,” said Dr. Baldwin. “It is safe to say that the vast majority of Union Academy’s graduates entered the ninth grade at Franklin High School since it is the largest feeder school for Union Academy.  With this in mind, it would also be pretty safe to say that roughly 7 out of 10 students who struggled academically, or otherwise at FHS and transferred to Union Academy were able to graduate from Union Academy.”

 According to Dr. Baldwin, most of the students transfer to UA from FHS during the second month of the school year and also at the end of the semester.  

“What we have seen in the past is that once a student fails a course it is very difficult for them to recover,” said Dr. Baldwin “We attempt to identify struggling students early, in the second month, so that they can get them the help they need either at FHS or UA. This is important for them in order to maintain their course credit.  We have also noticed that seniors tend to get complacent in the spring.  Therefore, we attempt to get them to UA in order to preserve the graduation course credit that they are in danger of losing.” 

Union Academy Principal Diane Cotton noted that students who attend UA work with district support staff to address areas of their education that might need additional focus to help them be successful.

“Macon County Schools provides the software support needed for student credit recovery,” said Cotton. “Our online facilitator works very well with our students to encourage them to complete any credit recoveries and gain the skills they missed during the first round. The entire staff at Union Academy has completed extensive training to meet the many academic, behavioral and emotional needs of our students. The mindset of the students and staff of Union Academy is we use our strength to overcome and comeback! ”

Looking at ADM numbers for last school year, the school year for which graduation rates were celebrated, Union Academy began the 2019-2020 school year with five 12 graders, however by the end of the school year, they had a total of 37 12th graders enrolled, with the highest enrollment numbers recorded for seniors last school year at Union Academy being 42 during the second to last month of the school year. Those would be students identified throughout the school year at Franklin High School or another high school in the district at being at-risk. 

For all grades at Union Academy — 7th grade through 12th grade, Union Academy began last school year with 83 students but finished the school year with 116 students. So far this school year, Union Academy started with 80 students and now currently has 96 students enrolled, with includes one more senior than began the school year. 

Union Academy plays a key role in the overall education of Macon County students, providing a dedicated space with staff geared toward individualized education plans. One of the many benefits of Union Academy is the efforts of staff to reach students identified as high risk. Without Union Academy, the graduation rate for Franklin High School would likely be significantly lower. Students identified as being the most at-risk are transferred to Union Academy. If they end up dropping out or not graduating for another reason, that student would impact Union Academy’s graduation rate rather than Franklin High School, even if that student spent all their high school career at Franklin High School prior to being transferred to Union Academy. 

“I think it is important to look at Union Academy within the context of the Macon County School system,” said Dr. Baldwin. “Graduation rates are important measures at each of our high schools, but the overall graduation rate for the Macon County School system is most important. Last year the graduation rate for Macon County Schools was 95.4%. This includes the graduation rate of Union Academy.”

Having Union Academy within the district works two ways — students who attend Union Academy in middle school often receive the extra support needed to return to Franklin High School during high schools. “Eith graders only begin 9th grade at FHS if they are able to reenter MMS before the end of 8th grade,” said Dr. Baldwin. This means that most UA ninth graders begin their high school career at UA. However, many of these students finish their high school career at FHS.”

The district graduation rate is a measure of those students who began the ninth grade in any of our high schools and graduated from any of the high schools within our district, or who began ninth grade in another district and transferred to our district and graduated with their cohort, or any student who might have enrolled in the ninth grade in our district, but transferred out of our district prior to the graduation date of their cohort. A transfer requires a request of records from another district or enrollment in a state-recognized home school.

“A 95.4 percent graduation rate for Macon County has room for improvement,” said Dr. Baldwin. “We are committed to improving this rate to 100 percent, which includes helping students at Union Academy to become more successful emotionally, behaviorally, and academically so that they graduate from high school regardless of whether that is Union Academy, FHS, Highlands, MEC, or Nantahala. The number of students who choose to complete high school at Union Academy is worth noting. Many students prefer the smaller classes and the relationships that can be developed in a smaller school.”


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