Lee County's school board approved a revised dropout prevention plan for the district at its meeting last week. The Mississippi Department of Education has asked all of the state's school districts to revise their dropout plans. Those plans were first created three years ago.
As a 19-member team began to revise Lee County's plan, it began to focus on teaching reading, team leader Debbie Pickens said.
"We met as a committee and discussed the reasons committee members thought students were dropping out of high school, and the consensus was that the key was being able to read at grade level for all grades," said Pickens, Lee County's director of student services.
According to data released by the Mississippi Department of Education last spring, Lee County's graduation rate was 64.9 percent for students who began as freshmen in 2006 and graduated in 2010. The district's dropout rate for that period was 20.6 percent.
Mississippi had a graduation rate of 71.4 percent and a dropout rate of 17 percent.
The district is working toward its literacy goal through several initiatives, including Language Essentials for Teaching Reading and Spelling, a special program used by the district's teachers. Those teachers also have been trained to use multi-sensory phonics techniques and various graphic organizers to help students organize their thoughts.
The district gives a screening test to all of its sixth- to ninth-grade students. That test helps it see which students need extra help and which need extra challenges. Several programs are available to help middle school students improve their reading skills, and the district also has teachers at every school trained to help dyslexic students.
Lee County also uses consultants from the Mississippi Writing Thinking Institute to help teachers instruct students in these skills.
"We are following the goals in our strategic plan," Lee County Superintendent Mike Scott said. "Our initiative four years ago was to accelerate reading in kindergarten to third grade because we know those are the children who are going to be at risk if they can't read by the time they get out of third grade."
Lee County's plan also calls for the district to continue to have a "GRAD U 8" task force at each middle and high school. Each task force will consist of teachers, counselors, administrators, community leaders and parents.
Other objectives in the plan include establishing positive relationships with students and parents and increasing attendance among teachers and students.