Local schools update dropout prevention

Published 12:05 am Thursday, November 17, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Fallin Career and Technology Center teacher Anthony Tuccio shows Natchez High School student Brianna Hughes, 16, how to properly tie a knot, as she and her freshmen classmates tour the center Wednesday afternoon.

NATCHEZ — Less than half of the 2011 senior class at Natchez High School graduated in four years of high school, but members of a new dropout prevention committee hope to improve upon those graduation rates by the end of the next school year.

In accordance with new state regulations, the Natchez-Adams School District recently updated its 2008 plan to prevent dropouts before they happen.

The 31-page plan focuses on new strategies, old programs and on pulling in community people outside the field of education to motivate students to stay in school and on track to a cap and gown.

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Fallin Career and Technology Center teacher Lyvette Banks, center, and Natchez High student Shakara Perry, left, teaches Sonya Woods, 14, how to properly remove surgical gloves during Natchez High’s freshmen tour of the center Wednesday afternoon.

“If we can get outside entities (involved), we can help students realize education is the way out,” NASD Interim Superintendent Joyce Johnson said.

According to data outlined in the plan, the four-year graduation rate at NASD from the 2010-2011 school year was 47 percent, and the five-year graduation rate was 62 percent.

In grades 1-6, 47 percent of students had five or more unexcused absences. In grades 7-12, 57 percent of students had five or more unexcused absences.

A new dropout prevention committee to address issues such as those includes educators, community leaders and parents.

Some members of the 15-member committee include the president of the Adams County Board of Supervisors, Darryl Grennell, supervisor elect and Adams County Extension director, David Carter, president of the Mississippi PTA, Deloris Irving and Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield.

Grennell said he has visited classrooms at Natchez High in recent weeks and has helped students in one class with their assignment to compete with each other to create an economic development project.

Grennell said he suggested to the students that Chandler Russ of Natchez Inc. or a business professor from Alcorn State University could also assist, which he said excited the students.

“It’s really been fun to see their excitement,” Grennell said. “I hear them say they want to be more involved in community.”

Irving said the committee will give the district another set of outside eyes to zoom in on the serious problem of dropouts.

The committee, along with several data gathering techniques, should help hold the plan accountable, Irving said.

“Sometimes you implement and follow through, but you need to know if (the strategies) are actually dong what you want them to do,” she said.

At the Nov. 10 school board meeting, some school board members asked about measures involving curriculum and flexibility.

“We’re going to have to start looking at some things we can do differently to address the needs of these children more,” board member Thelma Newsome said.

Fallin Career and Technology Director Linda Grafton said a new program she hopes will open doors for students is a career pathway diploma.

Instead of earning 25 credits for a regular academic diploma, students can earn 20 credits in a chosen career path, such as early childhood education, health sciences or construction.

The career-focused programs offered at Fallin can allow students to transfer those credits to two-year colleges, such as Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Grafton said.

“Some students are looking to go straight to work or a year or two of community college and then go to work,” Grafton said. “They’re not necessarily headed for four-year diploma.”

Grafton, who is a member of the dropout prevention committee, said the committee will focus on helping eighth graders — especially those identified as at risk of dropping out — to develop career and academic plans.

Grafton said career-driven curriculum could help some students with their own troubles focus on learning something they see as more useful.

Board member David Troutman said nonacademic courses would help address tough questions he has had to ask himself as a teacher.

“How do I have to convince a pregnant eighth grader to care about the slope of a line?” Troutman said.

Recruiting more participants for existing programs like Jobs for Mississippi Graduates and Mississippi Scholars was another focus of the plan.

Also included as some of the 17 strategies listed to prevent dropouts are programs or methods that focus on learning at the primary and elementary ages. By focusing on early learning, students are less prone dropping out as a result of being so far behind, Academic Director Charlotte Franklin said.

Grafton said catering the district’s flexibility in meeting the needs of students can hopefully cut down on dropouts and truancy.

“Not everybody has the same cookie-cutter pathway,” Grafton said.