‘It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish;’ First DPS program graduate worked for 40 years to get high school diploma

Mary Mack, a Dayton Public Schools bus coordinator, said she hopes to inspire others to return and get their diplomas.

Some of the loudest cheers at this year’s Mound Street Academy graduation — a dropout recovery school operated by Dayton Public Schools — were for Mary Mack, a district bus coordinator who worked for 40 years to graduate high school.

Mack was part of a program added to Mound Street last year for adults age 22 and above and recently became its first graduate. Most of Mound Street’s students are 16 to 21 who dropped out of their first high school.

Mack dropped out of school her junior year at Colonel White High School to work with her mother at a cleaning business. Her graduation year would have been 1984.

After Mack left, she took courses at Sinclair Community College, trying to get her GED. She passed all the courses but math. Then her mom got sick, and life got in the way again.

“I was in a program,” Mack said. “There was always something coming up.”

Earlier this year, Chrisondra Goodwine, a DPS board member, was working on getting her bus driver’s license. Mack was one of the women helping her and Goodwine told Mack about the program. Mack reached out to Dan Hinshaw, the principal at Mound Street, and began finding her transcripts.

In February, she began the courses she needed to graduate. Mack had five credits she needed to finish, including statistics, which for her, was the hardest.

Hinshaw said the 22+ program is not a GED course but gives adults a way to complete their high school diploma. The catch is the student has to finish within two years, and the years are calculated to July 1. If a student started in May, their first year would still end June 30.

Hinshaw said he was interested in bringing the 22+ program to Mound Street because adults of students who attend Mound Street have expressed interest.

“With our community, the more educated adults are, the more there will be a bigger push for students,” Hinshaw said.

Mack said she had to dedicate a huge amount of time to finish her diploma by May. She said she was working during her lunch breaks, weekends, her vacations and even skipped church on five Sundays – a huge deal for Mack, who participates in several positions in her congregation, Valley Peace. Her son, Isiaih Jenkins, supported her, Mack said, and members of the Valley Peace congregation attended Mack’s graduation May 21.

“I say this is the hardest thing since birth, because it was really hard for me,” Mack said. “It really was. But I wanted it badly.”

David Lawrence, DPS superintendent, was Mack’s boss when he was business manager last year. He encouraged her to get her diploma and said he also pushed people to help Mack.

“I feel like a proud dad, because I watched the whole thing,” Lawrence said.

Mack said other people have asked her about applying to the program and getting their own diplomas.

“They came in almost whispering,” she said. “And I told them it was nothing to be ashamed of.”

Instead, people will cheer them on because they’re working to make their lives better, Mack said. She’s passed a few names on for Hinshaw, who said his staff will begin looking into it when they come back in July.

She hopes to continue her education with an associate’s degree at Sinclair in business.

Hinshaw said some of the younger students at Mound Street took inspiration from Mack too.

“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” Hinshaw said. “And that’s the message I kept pushing with them.”

Mack said she knew she wanted her diploma badly enough to make sacrifices.

“I’m quite sure a lot of you guys have stories, things you want real bad in your life,” Mack said. “You just have to work at it. And that’s exactly what I did.”

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