Dropout summit mulls fresh school calendar

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Amy Welborn speaks during Friday's Dropout Prevention Summit about a federal grant that the New Albany and Lee County school districts received to provide tutoring and enrichment. Welborn is the site coordinator of the grant for New Albany Elementary. The summit was held at the Advanced Education Center in Tupelo.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Amy Welborn speaks during Friday’s Dropout Prevention Summit about a federal grant that the New Albany and Lee County school districts received to provide tutoring and enrichment. Welborn is the site coordinator of the grant for New Albany Elementary. The summit was held at the Advanced Education Center in Tupelo.

By Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Creative scheduling can make a large impact in reducing school dropouts, a retired educator told a group of administrators on Friday.

Speaking during the CREATE Foundation’s eighth annual Dropout Prevention Summit, James Stidham challenged the leaders of Northeast Mississippi school districts to consider restructuring their summer breaks.

Under Stidham’s flex quarter proposal, schools would have short three-week breaks at the end of each nine-weeks grading period. That would replace the current model with a long two-plus-month summer break between late May and early August.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com A local educator uses his tablet to research the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
A local educator uses his tablet to research the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant.

Instead, students would be off from early June until mid-July before starting a new school year. The year would be the same number of days, 180, but the shorter, more frequent breaks would decrease burnout and would avoid the learning loss that often occurs when students spend a long summer break away from school.

“Retention is a big problem,” said Stidham, a consultant who formerly worked as the director of the Millsaps Career and Technical Center in the Starkville School District. “Most kids won’t think about algebraic equations, subject-verb agreement or history during the summer. Most teachers will tell you it takes a month to bring them back to where they were in May.”

Students from lower-income families, those who can not easily afford educational opportunities during the summer, would get the greatest benefit, Stidham said.

“We need to always keep in mind what is best for children,” he said. “What is not best for children is the schedule we have now, and it needs to be changed.”

Stidham was among the eight speakers during Friday’s event, which aims to bring together Northeast Mississippi school districts to discuss solutions that would increase graduation and consequently raise average incomes in local communities.

Representatives of the New Albany and Lee County school districts talked about their partnership on a $1.7 million federal grant that provides before- and after-school tutoring and enrichment.

Donna Ivy, the student services coordinator at the Tupelo High Career-Technical Center, spoke about dyslexia, which plays a major role in keeping students from graduating, she said.

“These kids can be taught,” she said. “There is no reason for them to get to high school on a second- and third-grade reading level.”

The key, she said, is for school districts to hire teachers trained in Orton-Gillingham methods, which use multisensory techniques.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com