By CHRIS WILSON
Local school districts all have made strides in reducing their student dropout rates. Some, such as Aberdeen and Amory, have cut their dropout rate roughly in half since last year.
According to figures released last week by the Mississippi Department of Education, graduation rates, based on students who started ninth grade in the 2004-2005 school year and completed in 2008, the statewide trend is not as encouraging as figures from school districts in Monroe County.
The state’s overall dropout rate increased slightly, going from 15.9 percent with the class of 2007 to 16 percent for 2008.
However, things look much better in Monroe County than they do statewide. Aberdeen School District saw a 21.3 percent dropout rate in 2007 improve to a 9.4 percent rate in 2008.
The Amory School District also saw a dramatic improvement going from a 17.1 percent dropout rate in 2007 to 9.3 percent in 2008.
Monroe County School District’s rate remained almost unchanged, going from 11.6 in 2007 to 11.4 in 2008.
And despite initiating some new programs, especially for incoming high school freshmen in the Nettleton School District, its dropout rate jumped up from 21.5 percent to 24.5 percent.
Aberdeen Supt. of Education Dr. George Gilreath attributed the district’s improvement in dropout rates to the work that dropout coordinator Willie Mae Johnson and her staff is doing. “She and her staff have worked hard to help all our students stay in school and earn a diploma,” Gilreath said. “We hired an attendance counselor and Gilmore Foundation funded a graduation coach to help in this effort. The attendance counselor visited homes on the second day of absence for all our students. This allowed her to personally speak to the child and the parent and emphasize the importance of being at school.”
Aberdeen also added tutoring programs for seniors and underclassmen. And the district’s teachers go to the learning center to work with struggling learners. Johnson and her group meets with seniors at least once a month to review their progress.
Gilreath said the community also has played an active role in the dropout prevention effort. Community leaders, ministers and the police chief and mayor have all been supportive of it.
Amory Supt. of Education Jim Sappington credits his district’s improvement on a community-wide effort.
“The whole community has focused on this dropout problem,” Sappington said. “Everyone in the school system as well as the community have focused on keeping kids from dropping out.”
Among some of the programs the Amory School District has implemented to address the dropout issue are the hiring of a graduation coach who counsels at-risk students, the laptop program where Gilmore Foundation provides a free laptop computer to every senior at the beginning of their senior year. The computer is theirs to keep if they graduate. And a mentoring program has also contributed to keeping kids in school, Sappington said.
“I was really happy with our progress on this dropout problem,” Sappington said.
According to Amory High School Principal David Poss, the high school ranked 6th out of 152 high schools in the state in terms of graduation rates. Amory’s graduation rate was 85.6 percent, with the statewide average at 72 percent. The graduation rate is based on tracking students who enrolled in the district as ninth graders in the 2004-2005 class and following them through graduation in 2008.
“We are proud to be in the top six in the state,” Poss said. “This is a result of our school board, central office staff and faculty working together to help our students be successful. We have a dedicated and caring faculty who work very hard to help our students succeed.”
Poss thanks the Gilmore Foundation for providing a graduation coach, laptop computers and all the other support.
amp”The momentum for dropout prevention continues to build across the state as more school districts develop dropout prevention programs and partnerships are formed with the business sector and local communities,amp” said Mississippi Supt. of Education Dr. Hank Bounds.
The state’s goal is to reduce the statewide dropout rate to 13 percent by the 2012-2013 school year.