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Schools tackle dropout increase

By Sarah Campbell
scampbell@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury School System launched night school at West Rowan and Carson high schools Monday.
The schools will provide an alternative schedule for students who need to hold down jobs during the day and to act as a remedial step for those who have fallen behind.
And the program is just one step in the district’s plan to decrease its dropout rate, school officials say.
The school system’s dropout rate increased last year. During the 2009-10 academic year, Rowan-Salisbury had 276 students drop out, for a rate of 4.24 percent. The previous year, 254 students dropped out for a rate of 3.84 percent.
School officials presented dropout prevention strategies during the Board of Education meeting Monday.
Although the district already has a variety of tools in place to keep students in school, it’s looking into implementing several new procedures.
Kathy McDuffie, director of secondary education, said each school will begin using N.C. Wise Risk Report to track students attendance and performance. The system notifies principals of potential patterns that could lead to drop outs.
“One of the big issues is attendance, kids that do not attend school regularly have a higher incidence of dropout,” she said.
McDuffie said students who are repeating courses are also at higher risk for dropping out.
At-risk students will also receive a graduation support plan tailored to address specific needs.
“We’re not only looking at academics, but what are we going to put into place to help them get over that hump and graduate,” McDuffie said.
Mentoring will continue to be a vital part of the district’s dropout prevention strategy.
Every high school already assigns each student an advisor and Communities in Schools provides mentors to students.
“We are going to continue to strengthen that mentoring component and look at bringing in community groups to help with that,” McDuffie said.
Another focus will be to provide academic support through credit recovery, freshman seminars, individualized registration and remediation.
“We are focusing a lot on academics because if students are successful in academics they want to come to school more,” McDuffie said
The district is also looking into implementing a transition program similar to the one between West Rowan Middle and West Rowan High.
Jamie Durant , principal of West Rowan High School, said the program allows at-risk middle-schoolers to take physical education and U.S. history at his school.
“They spend the first two blocks of the school day with us so that when they become freshman they are already acclimated,” he said.
Durant said the program also gives students the opportunity to earn two high school credits.
McDuffie said the district is currently strengthening its early reading and literacy support.
“It doesn’t just start in high school even though they are held accountable for accountable for the dropout rate,” she said.
Three-week progress reports will also be initiated at every high school.
“If you wait four and a half weeks you are already halfway through a semester and it may be took late to get students back on track,” McDuffie said.
In the future, students will also be encouraged to participate in clubs, sports and other extra-curricular activities.
Dr. Walter Hart, the school system’s assistant superintendent for administration, said six of the 276 dropouts last year participated in a sport.
“What that data said to me is that kids involved in athletics are dropping out at a very low rate compared to other kids,” he said.
Though there is no current data to back it up, McDuffie assumes that is also true of students who are involved in extra-curriculars.
“Once they feel like they belong, they will continue to come to school,” she said.
The school system is looking into formalizing the dropout process so that the central office is the last step.
Dr. Rebecca Smith, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the school system will also continue to take a “partnership approach” in decreasing the dropout rate.
“Parents have to be involved and the community has to be involved, it doesn’t just happen at the schools,” she said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.

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