By Holly Fesperman LeeSalisbury Post
Eighty more students dropped out of Rowan-Salisbury high schools last year than in the previous year, and a large part of that increase came from South Rowan High, where 28 additional students were counted as dropouts.
Carson High School was included in the state’s dropout report for the first time this year; 39 students dropped out in the school’s first year.
All other area high schools either held the line or added only single digit numbers to their dropout totals from the 2005-2006 school year.
Salisbury High School was the only school that kept its dropout number the same; 53 students dropped out for the second year in a row.
West Rowan High School enjoyed the smallest number of dropouts last year. Only 29 students left school in 2006-2007; West also had the smallest dropout total in the 2005-2006 school year with 23.
Henderson Independent again had the largest number of dropouts. The school lost 101 students last year and 94 the previous year.
South Rowan High reported the highest number of dropouts among the traditional high schools, with 88. That’s up 28 students from 2005-2006, when 60 dropped out.
East Rowan High School lost 47 students last year; that’s up seven students from the previous year.
North Rowan High School tied Carson, with 39 dropouts last year. That total is up six students from the 2005-2006 school year when 33 students left North Rowan.
Dropout rates for each high school are:
– West Rowan, 2.5 percent
– East Rowan, 3.9 percent
– Carson, 4.3 percent
– North Rowan, 5.7 percent
– Salisbury, 5.8 percent
– South Rowan, 8.1 percent
– Henderson, 47 percent
As for the school system as a whole, 380 students dropped out in grades 9-12. The state reported the 2006-2007 dropout rate at 5.47 percent, up 1.1 point from 4.37 percent in the 2005-2006 school year.
Of those 380 high school aged dropouts, 65.5 percent were white, 25.5 percent were black and 5.7 percent were Hispanic. Asian students and those listed as “other” comprised 3.42 percent of total dropouts.
In the previous school year, 64.3 percent of the 300 students who dropped out in grades 9-12 were white, 28 percent were black, and 5.67 percent were Hispanic. Asian students made up .67 percent of the total number.
Dr. Walter Hart, assistant superintendent, says the state doesn’t calculate a systemwide dropout rate for each racial group, but he’s made his own estimates that he thinks are close.
The dropout rate is 6 percent for white students, 10.5 percent for black students and 7.3 percent for Hispanic students, Hart says.
Jamie Durant, principal at West Rowan, attributes the school’s low dropout rate to “teachers that are just genuinely concerned for the students.”
West teachers keep students’ best interests in mind, keep them on track and show students they expect them to get their diploma, he says.
“I also think it’s community,” Durant says, “a strong community and parental support with an emphasis on education.”
While West Rowan’s rate was the lowest among all Rowan-Salisbury high schools, Durant says any dropout is too many.
“We never want to have a situation where students feel it’s necessary to drop out of high school,” he says.
Henry Kluttz, principal at Carson High, is leading the school into its second year, but he’s a veteran educator with plenty of experience on the dropout issue.
“I think anytime you have a single dropout you’re disappointed,” Kluttz says.
Kluttz says the way dropouts are reported bothers him. When a child enters ninth grade, he says, that is considered his or her cohort group.
“If he or she doesn’t graduate eight semesters later with that cohort group, it’s looked at statistically as a dropout,” Kluttz says.
There will always be a handful of children each year who have major injuries, accidents, health concerns or unexpected pregnancies, he says. Sometimes those issues put students behind in school a semester, a year or longer.
“It’s not giving any wiggle room for that handful of children at each of our schools that are faced with issues they have no control over,” he says.
Kluttz says it is most important to get children back in school, even if they finish later than their classmates. Parents who don’t encourage their children to go to school or who let them drop out are a problem, he says.
“We often times have absolutely no control over what happens internally in a family unit. And I have a real problem with all of that being laid at the feet of the school,” he says.
Kluttz says schools can offer counseling, programs and a listening ear, “but that’s a family dynamic issue that often is out of our reach.”
Kluttz says all administrators are aware of the dropout issue, “and we have things in place that we try to push. And you have some success with some kids.
“Any time we lose one, that’s one too many, because we know what that future is for him.”
While South Rowan Principal Judd Starling says it’s hard to know exactly why his school has the highest dropout rate in the county, he’s seen many children leave school to work so they can help their families.
“I want every child in this building to graduate from high school,” he says.
Since Starling first came to lead South Rowan last school year, he’s put several programs in place to encourage students to stay in school.
He started advisor-advisee programs, he says, “to let these kids know there’s someone they can talk to, someone trying to encourage success.”
Starling says the school also works to get internships for students who are in danger of dropping out, to make them realize they aren’t prepared to enter the workforce.
Student success rates on test scores improved dramatically this year, and Starling says he thinks it’s because of the school’s efforts to curb dropouts.