CHRIS KIEFFER: Focus on graduation and dropout rates must remain a priority

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

The recent release of state graduation rates, high school completion rates and dropout rates revealed that Northeast Mississippi schools must remained focused on improving all three.
Much attention has been placed upon dropout prevention recently, especially since the CREATE Foundation began hosting Dropout Prevention Summits four years ago.
Yet the latest statistics reveal that as a whole, the regional rates haven’t dramatically changed during that time.
The latest figures covered students who entered ninth grade in the fall of 2005 and were on pace to graduate in May 2009. Compared to figures from four years earlier, 16 Northeast Mississippi districts improved their dropout percentages and 15 declined.
The statistics measure each district and school in graduation rate and completion rate, which includes graduates, occupational diploma recipients, certificate of attendance recipients and GED recipients.
Compared to state averages, Northeast Mississippi districts have had the most success in raising their completion rates and reducing their dropout rates. Where they need more work is in increasing graduation rates.
Twenty-one of the region’s 31 school districts had lower dropout rates than the state’s 16.7 percent average, and 20 districts were better than the state’s 79 percent completion rate.
But the graduation statistics were worse: 16 districts were better than the state’s 71.4 percent average, 14 were below it and one was exactly even with it.
The statistics did reveal some dramatic reductions in dropout rates. Benton County lowered its dropout rate from 31.5 percent in 2008 to 19.5 in 2009 and Starkville fell from 26 percent to 16 percent in the last year. Oktibbeha County decreased from 32.5 percent in 2006 to 9.6 percent in 2009, and Okolona has gone from 21.4 percent in 2006 to 9.0 percent in 2009, to name a few.
Meanwhile, Nettleton has also decreased its dropout percentage from 31.1 percent in 2006 to 22.1 percent in 2009, and Baldwyn had dropped from 22.1 percent in 2006 to 9.4 percent in 2009.
The recent focus of CREATE’s dropout prevention summits has been allowing districts to share the practices that have made them successful.
The region’s five best graduation rates are Booneville (87.0), Tishomingo County (85.4), Oxford (82.8), Monroe County (82.5) and New Albany (82.4).
Those superintendents have spoken about methods to get to know students individually. It may be community members who truly know nearly all of the kids in the community, a graduation coach whom at-risk students feel comfortable with or teachers, coaches and administrators who make a connection with struggling students.
By shinning the spotlight on school graduation rates and learning from the success of other districts, Northeast Mississippi schools can continue to reach more students.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.