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Dropout rates down in Rowan, Kannapolis

The dropout rates in both the Rowan-Salisbury and Kannapolis City school systems fell during the 2011-12 school year, according to data released Thursday by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

That mirrors a state average, which shows the rate dropped from 3.43 percent a year earlier to 3.01 percent. A total of 13,488 dropped out in 2011-12, a drop of about 12 percent from 15,342.

Rowan-Salisbury’s rate fell to its lowest level in a decade a year ago at 3.36 percent.

The trend continued in 2011-12, dipping to 2.91 percent.

The number of students dropping out fell from 214 to 185, a 13.6 percent decrease.

“We continue to want excellent results in all areas of accountability in our district,” said Dr. Richard Miller, chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education in a press release. “The decreasing dropout rate is just one example of how our district is continuing to improve with the limited resources we have at our disposal.

“We are definitely progressing forward and working hard to keep all our students in school.”

The Kannapolis district, which only has one high school, saw its rate drop from 5.44 to 4.56 percent during 2011-12 after rising the previous year. Sixty-nine students dropped out last school year, down from 81 a year earlier for a nearly 15 percent dip.

Both districts have implemented a number of initiatives to keep students in school.

Rowan-Salisbury Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom said it has been “top priority and focus” for her staff.

“When I became superintendent for the Rowan-Salisbury Schools, one of the main concerns from the feedback I received in our community was the need to address the dropout and graduation rates in our district,” she said in a press release. “We continue to implement and revise strategies to address the problems that cause students to dropout. The downward trend in our dropout rate illustrates that those strategies are working.”

The school system has made attendance the top reason for dropping out, a heavy focus with counselors working to contact students with issues and arrange conferences with parents.

Focusing on student attendance during their elementary and middle school years has also helped build positive habits that follow them to high school.

 “Parents need to make sure their children are at school every day, ready to learn, and communicate consistently with their children’s teachers,” Grissom said.

The Alternative to Suspension Program allows students to complete assignment and receive credit during suspension periods when they are away from school.

The Learning, Intervention, Nurturing, Knowledge and Student Achievement (LINKS) program, funded through a federal grant, helps the district target at-risk students by working through counselors and intervention specialists to meet the individual needs of students.

Volunteer mentors and tutors from the faith-based community and Communities in Schools of Rowan County are there to give students extra support.

The district touts the Rowan County Early College and Henderson Independent High School as programs that keep students on path to graduate.

The early college, designed for first-generation college students, low income and minority students, gives students a chance to earn an associate’s degree during high school.

Henderson is an alternative school that addresses academic, therapeutic, mental health and discipline needs of students.

Credit recovery gives students a chance to recover failed courses, instead of dropping out due to frustration. The differentiated diploma also provides at-risk students a chance to graduate with fewer credits.

A night school has been implemented at five of the district’s six high schools, including Carson, Salisbury, North Rowan, South Rowan and West Rowan. Students can go to school during the afternoon and evening hours instead of the typical school day when some might need to work or care for children.

Staff members throughout the district work with students at risk of dropping out on an individual basis.

Individual exit interviews, home visits, and meetings with parents and students offering options for them to stay in school and to help them realize the obstacles and limitations that they would face without a high school diploma.

“Meeting the needs of individual students allows us to provide support that directly impacts a student’s interest and engagement in learning,” Grissom said. “We will not be satisfied until we keep all of our students in school and ready to graduate with a diploma.”

The Kannapolis district opened an alternative program to get some of its students back on the right track academically. Students move back to A.L. Brown after meeting specific performance and behavior marks.

The district also utilizes mentors and tutors.

A.L. Brown High School’s freshman academy is attributed to decreasing the dropout rate by helping students transition to high school during their first year.

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