VWSD approves program to prevent dropouts

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 31, 2014

A grant from the Mississippi Legislature will provide funding for a new dropout prevention program for the Vicksburg Warren School District.

The district’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday to approve the implementation of the Star Academy— an intensive program that allows students who have been held back for two or more years to eventually return to their original class.

Up to 80 students can participate in the program that will be housed at Grove Street School.

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“We have an opportunity that’s been, for lack of a better term, dropped in our lap,” said Chad Shealy, superintendent of the VWSD.

The program will be open to eighth graders and would, within a single school year, allow them to move back into the grade of their peers.

Virginia Robinson, with Star Academy, told board members the program’s success lies in preventing dropouts from leaving school because they are too far behind.

“The basic concept behind this program is we take kids that are two years behind and we accelerate the process,” Robinson told board members at their monthly meeting.

VWSD will be the second district in the state after George County School District implemented the program.

Robinson said the support both in the legislature and in the Mississippi Department of Education has made the process go smoothly.

“This is really a joint effort between the House and Senate and Department of Education. They really have come together to back this program.”

She told the board that, of students that graduate from the program, more than 90 percent go on to graduate high school with their peers.

“I was blown away when I looked at the data from Georgia,” Shealy said of prior academies that had been installed in other districts.

The $750,000 grant will fund the program for three years. After that, the district would have to take a larger burden of the financial cost.

Robinson noted that, if 80 students are retained through the program, the increase in state funding would nearly match the cost of the program.

Public school districts in Mississippi receive funding based on the number of students within the district. The funding comes to approximately $6,000 per student per year.

When asked by District 4 Trustee Joe Loviza about other sites’ success, Robinson said the data supports the program.

“We have won the National Dropout Prevention award three of the last five years,” she said.

Shealy said he expects implementation within the next month.