GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- The Guilford County school system is considering cutting 15 graduation coach positions at the high school level in order to meet budget constraints.
Graduation coaches target students who are not on track to earn a diploma and help them take after school or online classes to catch up.
These coaches also partner with social workers to make home visits and help parents see the importance of attendance and graduation.
Since Eric Rainey began his role as graduation coach in 2007 at Southwest High School, the dropout rate has improved from over 3 percent to 1.15 percent last year.
He and his graduation team helps students understand early on that "not graduating is not an option."
He hangs pictures in his office on a Wall of Fame to show the students he's helped over the years.
"When we first meet with them, kids who are off track to graduate, there's a look of hopelessness. Graduation is not even a thought of theirs," Rainey explains. "That's where the constant monitoring, and constant meeting, constant pressuring and pestering pays off. Because the end result is smiling faces walking across the stage."
Eliminating these 15 positions would save the school system about $1.1 million.
Last year GCS had the highest graduation rate ever. Rainey worries cutting these jobs will eventually have a negative impact on the graduation rate when students who are "on the edge" won't have a mentor.
"Without the graduation coach position, they would not be here. That wall would be empty," he said, looking at the Wall of Fame. "My concern is not me. I'll always find a job. But what about those kids?"
Southwest senior Cody Pells says coaches like Rainey helped get her through high school.
"I guess Senioritis kinda kicked in a little earlier than expected," she joked. "Sophomore year, things just kinda went downhill."
But Pells is now planning to graduate in June and aspires to go to college and one day be a veterinarian.
"I think without a graduation coach, how else would you expect other kids to do what they needed to do to get across the stage?" she questioned.
Rainey's principal has found a way to keep him at Southwest next year, but they worry other schools may not have any flexibility.
The Board of Guilford County Commissioners met Tuesday with the Board of Education for a work session to discuss budget concerns.