ALBANY, Ga. -- Tucked in among the oaks along Highland Avenue is the county's "Last Chance High" -- and it's the best-kept secret in the Dougherty County School System.
The South Georgia Regional Achievement Center is the DCSS's fifth high school. Also known as a PLC (Performance Learning Center), the RAC is the final hope of getting a high school diploma for many area teens.
"The average student here is 18 years old with just seven credits, three years from graduation, two years behind and two years too old to be in another high school," RAC Principal John I. Davis said Friday.
"This place is their last chance to get a free public education and a free high school degree."
Davis has been at the RAC for five years. In his first year, the school graduated six students. In the second, the count rose to nine; the third, 29; the fourth, 41, and this past year, 50 graduated.
"This school is having an impact on our community," Davis said. "The dropout rate in this county among 18- and 19-year-olds is very high. We give those dropouts an opportunity to drop back in. We're the best-kept secret in Dougherty County."
DCSS Public Information Director R.D. Harter recognizes the RAC's contribution to the community.
"The credit recovery program at the South Georgia Regional Achievement Center is growing in its contribution to our system every year," Harter said. "It was begun as what school systems call a 'safety net.' Students at risk of not finishing high school are given an opportunity to make up credits for graduation and finish school in that setting.
"This year the opportunity resulted in high school diplomas for 50 system students. That is tremendous. Five years ago, the program helped six students graduate. Since that year, about 100 students have achieved the goal of graduation."
Admission to the center is by invitation only. Prospective students must go through a stringent screening process by filling out an application then undergoing a personal interview with Davis.
"We had 152 students last year, and they all wanted to be here," Davis, who is in his fourth stop as a principal in the system, said. "We also learn to manipulate and screen the baggage these kids bring in -- and they all have baggage. This place is full of non-traditionally challenged kids, which is why they are so far behind in the first place.
"Our job is to find and identify the kids who are 'graduatable'."
There are no extracurricular activities at the RAC. No sports, no band, no chorus, no nothing other than academics.
"At a traditional school, 60 percent of a student's time is spent in an instructional environment. Forty percent of their time is spent on extracurricular stuff," Davis said. "We really carefully guard our instructional time here. The extracurricular stuff they can do on the weekends.
"Here we are expressly about academics."
And according to Harter, it's working.
"In these times of data-driven education management, the South Georgia RAC is driving our data in the right direction," Harter said. "More importantly, it is giving young people an opportunity to pursue the better jobs, continuing education, military service or other options available to those with that first major credential -- a high school diploma."
Even if "Last Chance High" is the best-kept secret in town.