Fewer students dropping out, state report finds|[06/12/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2008

The number of students dropping out of local public schools fell in the 2006-07 school year, according to state officials who said Wednesday that rates statewide are also down and falling.

Dropout numbers are being calculated differently than in the past, in that school districts across the state are self-reporting attendance numbers, but State Superintendent of Education Superintendent Dr. Hank Bounds said he believes the numbers more accurately reflect attendance statewide.

In the Vicksburg Warren School District, the dropout rate for the 2006-07 school year was 4.5 percent, compared with the state’s 15.9 percent.

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“I’m proud, but there’s still more work to do,” VWSD Superintendent Dr. James Price said this morning.

Mississippi is one of 17 states now using the National Governors Association method to calculate attendance. It tracks students from the time they begin 9th grade through graduation or when they drop out. It also accounts for students who move out of the state.

Because the calculation method has changed, it’s difficult to compare previous rates to those collected in 2007, but officials said they were confident the number is declining.

‘We weren’t comfortable with last year’s dropout rate. It was very high. We are working constantly on the dropout rate.’DR. JAMES PRICESUPERINTENDENT”We weren’t comfortable with last year’s dropout rate. It was very high,” Price said. “We are working constantly on the dropout rate.”

He attributes the lower number to the district’s efforts. Previously, a student listed as a dropout could have been one who transferred to another district. The VWSD now carefully tracks every student labeled as a dropout to make sure there was no other reason, such as moving, that the student was no longer on local rolls.

Another way the district has worked to lower the rate is to hire social workers and assign them to potential dropouts. Price said the district has beefed up counselor programs and made the curriculum more accessible, which includes online courses through a state virtual high school.

“The classes are online with different instructions and a change of scenery,” Price said. “Students who might not succeed in the classroom have a chance to succeed this way.”

Statewide, 73.8 percent of high school students graduated, according to numbers reported by the state Department of Education. In Warren County, the number was 80.2 percent. The district’s two high schools – Vickbsurg High School and Warren Central High School – had a total of 368 graduates in 2007. The district reported a total of 9,048 students enrolled in the 2006-07 school year.

“Both schools work very hard to graduate students,” Price said.

The rise in graduates – 187 more statewide in 2007 over the previous year – could mean a boost to the state’s economy. Across the state, 494,135 students were enrolled in K-12 in 2006-07.

Separately, each Mississippi school district’s state and federal funding is partially based on school enrollment and attendance.

In a press conference in Jackson Wednesday, Bounds talked about the students who a year before might have been dropouts.

“With an average $286,350 more earning potential over their lifetimes than high school dropouts, these students represent a $53,547,450 return on our investment,” he said. “That’s almost $54 million more that will be going into Mississippi’s economy.

He said the Mississippi Department of Education’s efforts to decrease dropout rates will be backed by the Mississippi Center for Education Innovation, which will focus on reaching the Board of Education’s two main goals: cutting the dropout rate in half over the next five to seven years and reaching the national average on national assessments.

“The momentum for dropout prevention is building in every corner of the state,” Bounds said. “The initiatives we have under way at both the state and local level are making a difference.

“The most significant difference will be in the lives of the boys and girls that will be saved from the life of struggle that high school dropouts suffer.”

Though pleased with the efforts in place, Price said he will keep working until every student receives a diploma.

“The bottom line is we can crunch numbers all day long, but, at the end of the day, it’s the same – students aren’t graduating who need to,” he said.

Prevention initiativesMississippi Department of Education’s Statewide Dropout prevention initiatives include:On the Bus branding campaign, including television ads, radio spots, billboards and a Web site. A $1.5 million grant from State Farm Insurance Companies funded the campaign.Dropout prevention summits, including one for teens and one for education, business and community leaders, were held earlier this year to identify and implement localized dropout prevention initiatives.Business Donations, including a $100,000 grant from Nissan North America to 10 Central Mississippi school districts to help fund their local dropout prevention plans and a custom-designed guitar from Peavey Electronics in honor of the “On the Bus” campaign, with guitar proceeds going to the Afterschool Alliance of Mississippi.Redesigning Education for the 21st Century Workforce in Mississippi, which was piloted in 14 school districts during the 2007-2008 school year and will be expanded to an additional 19 school districts during the 2008-2009 school year. The original 14 pilot sites will continue implementing the program.Local district dropout prevention plans, which were developed and submitted to the Mississippi Board of Education this spring, will begin the implementation phase in the 2008-09 school year.