Hillsborough County Schools are on a mission to hand more kids a diploma. The goal is to get 90 percent of all students graduating by the year 2020, and significant progress is already being made.
Ladasia George is in the home stretch of her senior year at Bloomingdale High School in Valrico, and she is laser focused to cross the finish line. But her time in school, hasn't always been smooth sailing..
"I guess I was like letting people influence me and not really focusing on my grades like I should," said George.
Her first two years, she was getting into fights and flunking out. Some of her friends dropped out of school altogether. But instead of giving up herself, Ladasia says good mentors and determination helped push her to get in gear junior year.
"I have big dreams, and I know I couldn't do it with not doing my work, falling asleep in class, being in drama. So that's what made me turn it around," said George.
Now, she's on track to graduate in May. And she's part of a mentoring program, helping struggling freshman Merlin Avila.
"I feel like I have the support system, I can move on and continue to work hard to try and be someone," said Merlin Avila, Bloomingdale HS freshman.
Research shows if kids do well in ninth grade, they're much more likely to gradate.
"It's teaching them the life lesson that sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do. Maybe you don't like algebra. Maybe you don't like geometry. But you have to do that, because that's earning your paycheck--and your paycheck is your diploma," said Sue Burkett, Bloomingdale High School principal.
As the county moves toward an ambitious goal of growing graduation rates to 90 percent in the next three years, Bloomingdale's principal says developing more mentorships between students will be key.
"Who is that person? Who is that go-to? So we make sure they aren't getting lost," said Burkett.
Ladasia is glad her struggles are now an inspiration for others, and she's ready to fulfill her dreams.
"I'm just ready to keep going. I know it's going to be hard but I don't want to stop," said George.
The graduation rate for Hillsborough County Public Schools has increased to 79.1 percent, a three-percentage point increase over last year. Since Superintendent Jeff Eakins began leading the district, the graduation rate has continued to increase from 73.5 percent in 2013-14, to 76 percent in 2014-2015 and now 79.1 percent in 2015-16.