CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The lion that sits outside West Charlotte High School has become more than a mascot. It is a reminder of the goals inside.
"We are reclaiming the academic roar here at West Charlotte High School," said Denise Watts, superintendent for Project LIFT.
According to North Carolina records, in the 2010-11 school year, 54 percent of students graduated on time from West Charlotte High School. In the 2011-12 school year, 56 percent did. Now, that number has jumped 15 points to 71 percent. It is the first outside measure of how Project LIFT is doing.
Project LIFT is the public-private partnership backed by millions of dollars in donations aimed at increasing performance and graduation rates in West Charlotte.
"Part of educating kids is not allowing them to fail or quit," said West Charlotte Principal John Wall.
Wall said the money from donations has helped with things like paying teachers for more hours they are putting in. But he says most of what the school did to improve graduation rates didn't cost much money.
Wall said educators made home visits to make sure students came to class, helped students with credit recovery, added instructional time after school and on the weekends and really focus on building relationships.
Curtina Stokes is a recent graduate. She says without those things she wouldn't have graduated on time.
"Second semester rolls around and I have seven credits to get to graduate by June," she said.
Stokes says she fell behind when she moved from Virginia and many of her credits didn't transfer. She says she benefited from LIFT Academy, a school within a school with more individualized learning.
"I graduated on time," said Stokes.
Wall celebrates that but said he is also focused on the 29 percent of students that didn't. He said the school is shooting for at least 80 percent graduation next year and will continue much of the work that was successful this year.
"If you get kids to come to school, if you get them to behave, get them to focus on what they are supposed to be focusing on as far as academics, they will graduate from school," Wall said.
When Project LIFT started, it set a goal of reaching a 90 percent graduate rate in five years.