Seven superintendents described what their districts do, what's changed, and what works to achieve dropout reductions or sustain already-low rates.
The common thread in all the presentations is finding ways to pull students who are "bored" or in others ways disengaged back into the learning stream.
The superintendents also stressed the importance of starting early - even kindergarten - in tracking students whose progress isn't satisfactory and whose interest flags.
Lewis Whitfield, the Tupelo-based CREATE Foundation's senior vice president who has spearheaded dropout prevention efforts regionwide, said the dropout phenomenon is "mainly a community problem ... mainly a family problem."
The superintendents' remarks supported Whitfield's view.
Parental participation in pulling children back from dropping out may be the most effective and most essential element because it needs to both precede and support school-based efforts.
Nationwide research has found that family participation is the "most accurate predictor" of a student's success in school.
The seven superintendents (Ricky Neaves, Booneville; Kathy Davis Austin, Chickasaw County; Conwell Duke, Pontotoc; Kenneth Roye, Pontotoc County; Teresa McNeece, Itawamba County; Scott Cantrell, Monroe County; and Malcolm Kuykendall, Tishomingo County) all described, in some way, the factors identified as crucial by the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network:
- The basic core strategies: mentoring/tutoring, service learning, alternative schooling, and after school opportunities;
- Early interventions: early childhood education, family engagement, early literacy development;
- Making the most of instruction: professional development, active learning, educational technology, and individualized instruction;
- Making the most of the wider community: systemic renewal, school-community collaboration, career and technical education, and safe schools.
Chickasaw Superintendent Austin also offered an instructive view from long school experience: Periods of economic stress and unemployment cause students to rethink plans to drop out when they see parents - some probably with inadequate educational attainment - unemployed and with few, if any, prospects.
All the statistics about employment stability fall on the side of educational attainment - at least a high school diploma, and with college even better chances and greater prosperity.
The dropout issue attracted little attention for decades, so the task requires persistence.