EDITORIAL:Persistent effort

This week’s largely disappointing report on school dropout rates statewide reaffirms the difficulty and urgency of increasing the percentage of Mississippi students completing high school.

Seventeen Northeast Mississippi districts showed dropout rates under the 16 percent statewide average, including no dropouts in the Chickasaw County School District, but too many, 12 regionwide, exceed the statewide average, and 18 had a higher percentage of dropouts in 2008 than in 2007.

The dropout rate has been measured uniformly for only two years using a methodology adopted by the National Governors Association, whose interest hinges on educational attainment’s links to economic development and quality of life.

Mississippi encouragingly graduated more students in 2008 than in 2007, but the class was larger and the graduation percentage dropped because the dropout percentage rose slightly, one-tenth of a percent.

The dropout problem obviously requires sustained, intentional effort.

The Chickasaw County School District, which is the Houlka school, had no dropouts in the class of 2008. It is a small district numerically (525 students) , but even so a zero percentage rate is exceptional.

Houlka started five years ago with a methodical plan to reduce dropouts – before Mississippi’s statewide effort began.

The school received an Appalachian Regional Commission grant to help it address issues.

Houlka started an in-school program to help middle school pupils falling behind academically, and it initiated an in-school GED program for students who were not going to be able to receive a standard diploma.

Such pre-emptive action is the kind of approach necessary to achieve results.

Chickasaw Superintendent Kathy Young Davis said it is no longer acceptable to allow a child to walk away from school empty-handed. We agree.

Every reputable assessment of the ability to make a living and achieve personal goals lists high school graduation as the minimum level of acceptable educational attainment.

Houlka’s methods obviously achieved results in categories cited for success by the National Center for Public Education, affiliated with the National School Boards Association:

– A process for identifying students early in danger of dropping out.

– Programs to help students get back on track.

– Organizing programs minimizing chances a student will become a dropout.

– Initiating options for keeping older students in school.

Most research pinpoints successful intervention in the ninth grade as a key component of keeping kids in school.

Those are workable methods. Persistence is key in every school, every district.

Daily Journal