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Jefferson dropout rate down

November 08, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - After witnessing steady or climbing school dropout rates in recent years, officials of Jefferson County schools are pleasantly surprised by a decline in the rate, a school official said Monday.

The number of students dropping out of school decreased from 104 to 78 between the 1997-98 school year and the 1998-99 year, Sandy Dougherty, attendance officer for the local school system, said.

The school district's dropout rate was 3.4 percent last year, above the state average of 2.9 percent. The most recent figures put the county rate at 2.9 percent, Dougherty said.

School districts in the Eastern Panhandle have experimented with a variety of programs over the years in attempt to get the dropout rates down, but say it's been tough work.

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School officials have said they believe part of the problem is an abundance of jobs locally that lure students away from classrooms.

Over the last year, Jefferson County has added one anti-dropout initiative and dropped another.

The new initiative includes moving GED classes to evening hours in an attempt to better accommodate those who work during the day, Dougherty said.

Although specific numbers were not available Monday, more students are taking advantage of the GED program's night classes, according to Dougherty and Keegan Barr, a guidance counselor at Jefferson High School.

"I think we have a more viable program for students," Dougherty said.

The school district had been using a program called SUCCESS in which students participated in accelerated courses designed to build their self-esteem.

That program has been eliminated.

Barr said there was a concern that SUCCESS was not effective.

In addition to shifting the GED schedule, employees systemwide have made an effort to get dropout numbers down, Dougherty said. When a students shows signs of dropping out, teachers and other administrators call the student and his or her family at home to emphasize the importance of staying in school, Dougherty said.

"We call every student who is absent, and we keep calling until we get somebody," she said.

A Berkeley County schools employee said that system's dropout rates for the 1998-99 school year are not yet available yet. The numbers likely will increase from last year, said Taylor Perry, director of pupil services for the school system.

In the 1997-98 school year, 189 students dropped out in Berkeley County, giving the district a dropout rate of 3.4 percent.

Although new schools in Berkeley County have freed up space in classrooms and made it more comfortable for students to study, more jobs continue to open up and attract young adults, Perry said.

With a steady growth of jobs in the Eastern Panhandle, school officials must constantly work to keep the dropout rate under control, Dougherty said.

In the battle of "money versus grades, money wins out all the time," said Dougherty.

State job service officials warn that although students might easily enter the job market, they will have difficulty surviving long-term in an increasingly competitive market.

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