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County dropout rate is highest in last 12 years

August 28, 2000

County dropout rate is highest in last 12 years



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


The number of Washington County high school dropouts jumped to 339 last year, the highest it's been in at least the last 12 years, according to statistics released by the Washington County Board of Education.

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The new numbers show that 5.5 percent of the 5,521 students enrolled in grades nine through 12 last year dropped out, an increase of 66 students over the 273 who dropped out during the 1998-99 school year, the School Board said.

The satisfactory state level is 3 percent or less.

Boyd Michael, director of secondary education, said part of the problem can be traced to a healthy economy. Students are eyeing what appear to be attractive hourly wages and leaving school early to get jobs, he said.

"Kids are thinking short term," Michael said. "They can walk out of here and make $7 or $8 an hour. They're thinking, 'hey, that's money in my pocket now.'"

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Martha Roulette, director of student services, said hiring more guidance counselors could help students stay in school, but budget constraints could deter additional hirings.

During the 1998-99 school year, 4.56 percent of students dropped out, while 5.23 percent dropped out during the 1997-98 school year. The 1996-97 school year dropout rate was 5.09 percent, and the rate for the 1995-96 school year was 4.18 percent.

In the late 1980s the rate hovered around 4.6 percent and 4.7 percent, jumped to 5 percent in the 1988-89 school year, then dropped to between 3.3 percent and 3.9 percent from 1990 through 1994.

Roulette said students could decide to drop out for a number of reasons, including having the feeling that they're not succeeding in certain programs or that there might not be enough course options to meet their interests. There also could be outside factors pulling them away, she said.

She also said several intervention programs are in place in the school system to help encourage students to stay in school. Such programs include elementary and middle school summer programs and summer reading programs.

Roulette said the school system has also received grants to help pay for the intervention programs and hopes it can continue to implement more in the future.

The key, she said, is to catch students early.

"We have to impact students before they go into ninth and tenth grades," Roulette said. "They're most at risk then. We would encourage children in this school system to be successful, to have a special direction, a special goal."

"There are some programs that we would like to encompass, but they would probably be subject to budget constraints," Roulette said.

School Board member Paul Bailey said the school system's intervention programs are a step in the right direction and that more guidance counselors could also help.

He said the School Board is looking at obtaining more grants for additional programs.

"Certainly the pupil/counselor ratio is something that has to be seriously considered," Bailey said. "It should be high. Students might need help, and the stark reality is that it may not be available."

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