State works to combat high student dropout rate

Published 3:25 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The state’s new Dropout Prevention Plan, set to begin during the 2008-09 school year, has school districts establishing solutions to reduce dropout rates that take into account each system’s unique needs.

The plan’s goal is to cut Mississippi’s 26.6 percent dropout rate in half by 2013. The state Department of Education approved the plan in March. Before that, each school district dealt with dropouts in its own way.

Currently districts are organizing committees to work on finding individualized solutions to meet district needs. The state is to provide guidance and collaboration within the next year to help the districts meet a series of established deadlines to keep the program on track.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Sheril Smith, who heads the education department’s Office Dropout Prevention, said she isn’t sure that the state had a way to hold districts accountable for dropouts before the new plan. Under the new plan, no funding will be granted or withheld from districts based on dropout rates.

The plan also aims to reduce the truancy rate by 50 percent by 2013 and increase the graduation rate to 85 percent by 2019.

Canton Public Schools Superintendent Dwight Luckett said he supports the state’s new dropout plan. The Canton district leads the state in dropouts at 61 percent.

“We obviously need to do something in terms of a different approach statewide as well as in our local districts to decrease dropout rates,” Luckett stated in an e-mail. “The higher the dropout rate, the more our economic stability is adversely affected. We know in order to be most successful, students need to graduate from high school and move into higher areas of education and/or workforce training.”

Some administrators, however, are concerned the new plan could take focus off of academics.

Clinton Public School District Superintendent Tommye Henderson is organizing dropout committees but is concerned the state’s five-year high school redesign plan, which focuses on rewriting vocational courses, could leave students in her district with fewer academic choices. She said many of the her district’s college-bound students take vocational classes to prepare them for college.

“Some of this redesign is going to prevent students from being able to make some of those choices that they’ve made in the past,” Henderson said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a complete fix (to the dropout problem).”