OUR OPINION: Prevention Summit shines light on initiatives

By NEMS Daily Journal

Friday’s annual regional Dropout Prevention Summit, sponsored by CREATE Foundation, showcased innovative and practical approaches to keeping students in school at least through high school graduation, and the ideas all were instigated and implemented by Northeast Mississippians and school districts without legislative involvement.
Some, like the stellar pre-school initiatives in Amory and Monroe County, begin building the foundation for school years’ success with pre-school children in a program funded by the Gilmore Foundation.
A character education program called Integrity Time, headquartered in Tupelo, focusing specifically on developing the best attitudes, personal values and individual determination in young children, has been adopted by many school districts, and it was first used at Church Street Elementary School in Tupelo. CEO Sara Berry and COO Lane Williams Yoder, both with Northeast Mississippi roots, now market the program nationwide and internationally.
Booneville Public Schools Superintendent Todd English described his system’s dropout prevention action based on keeping children involved in extra-curricular activities – with a firm requirement of no failing grades, linked to near-constant communication and relationships with parents.
Itawamba Community College President David Cole and other ICC leaders described the school’s dual enrollment programs for high school students, and its plans for a program called Mississippi Works, which requires partnerships with a school district and the community college, targeted toward students who are likely to drop out but who could be drawn back on a success path with a “change of scenery” – and education leading to a diploma and a “Career Readiness Credential.”
Summit leader Lewis Whitfield, CREATE’s executive vice president, also sounded a clear call for school districts in the region to use CREATE’s resources, including former New Albany Public Schools Superintendent Charles Garrett, to consider requesting release from state rules and regulations that are found to be impediments to teaching and learning. That’s one of the goals of charter school advocates that could a easily be accomplished in public school districts. Whitfield said CREATE stands ready to assist in that advocacy.
The passion and success of the districts and private-sector initiated programs clearly suggest that not all wisdom about effective public school policy in the real, often difficult world resides with the Legislature.
Legislators could gain useful insights if, instead of clustering in the Capitol, they would actually all go and visit schools where effective methods have been implemented against often daunting challenges of poverty, dysfunctional families, and the other hallmarks of life beyond politics in our state.