The Southern Association, as the agency is usually called, is the regional accrediting agency for elementary and secondary schools, plus colleges and universities in the southern tier of states.
The recommendations for improvement cited are areas around which public discussions and concerns have been expressed:
- Tupelo's dropout rate reduction needs more work.
- Better technology in classrooms, especially in the consistency of available technology in elementary schools.
The dropout citation surprises no one in the professional ranks or among the community constituency. Tupelo's 2008 dropout rate climbed over 2007 and 2006, even as a coordinated, continuing effort got under way in the region and statewide to achieve significant reductions.
The Southern Association's recommendation coincidentally came the same day a regional Dropout Summit showcased the successful efforts of seven other school districts in Northeast Mississippi in either lowering or retaining low dropout rates.
The Tupelo district's large size almost certainly plays into dropout prevention issues, including the success of identifying and directly engaging the students most likely to drop out before high school graduation.
Nevertheless, a 19.6 percent rate is unacceptable by any measure, especially in a school system that has in generous measure virtually every financial, physical and professional asset.
The dropout problem is not about the school's image but its success in accomplishing for students what's needed: keeping them in school to receive a diploma.
One of the strengths cited links directly to dropout prevention: Community support.
The engagement of parents and other supporters, including businesses and their human resources, has been a mainstay of progress and strength in the Tupelo schools for more than 100 years.
As an involved community, supporters can and should be fully involved with keeping children in school.
Superintendents of the seven districts whose dropouts have dropped significantly or where low rates have been maintained all noted the melding of efforts between the professional school community and the support community.
Tupelo may need to ask itself if adequate energy is being drawn from the community in the anti-dropout effort. As Dropout Summit convener Lewis Whitfield noted, dropouts are a community problem and a family problem.