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County dropout rate is highest in 12 years

December 04, 2000

County dropout rate is highest in 12 years



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


Sixty-seven North Hagerstown High School students dropped out last year, the most of the eight regular high schools in Washington County, according to the Washington County Board of Education.

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Board statistics show 268 students dropped out of the regular high schools, but the number climbs to 343 when the 75 students who dropped out of the Evening High School are added.

Sometime during the school year, four students returned, which brings the dropout number down to 339 for the 1999-2000 school year. The School Board is using 339 as the official number of dropouts.

That is a 5.5 percent increase over the 273 that dropped out in the 1998-99 school year. The dropout rate is the highest it's been in at least 12 years.

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North High had the largest enrollment of all the high schools, with 1,254 students. Two students dropped out at Hancock Middle-Senior High School, which had the fewest number of students at 336.

Boyd Michael, the School Board's director of secondary education, said a good economy and appealing wages are partly to blame for swaying students to quit school.

"Seven, eight dollars an hour to some kids is starting to sound like good money," he said.

"It used to be you could say, 'hey, you can't make a living if you drop out,'" said Dave Reeder, North High principal. "Now, most of them can go out and find a job. Now we have to say, 'what kind of job do you need to maintain a decent living?' It's very difficult for a young kid to think that way. They see $8 an hour and they say, 'wow, this is great.'"

South Hagerstown High School, with an enrollment of 808 students, had the second highest dropout rate with 60 kids quitting school last year. Forty-four of the 912 students dropped out at Boonsboro High School, while 35 of the 870 enrolled at Williamsport High School quit.

Twenty-six of the 717 enrolled at Smithsburg High School dropped out, while 21 of the 356 enrolled at Washington County Technical High School quit. Clear Spring High School, with 406 enrolled last year, saw 13 students drop out.

Exact enrollment numbers for the Evening High School were not available, but school principal Bob Beard said there were more than 200 students.

The Evening High School enrolls students 16 years and older who need to make up credits to graduate or who decide to return to school for their diplomas.

Dave Reeder, principal at North High, said that even though his school had the most students of all the regular high schools drop out, the number has actually gone down since 1998.

"Over the last three years, we've been reducing our dropout rate," he said. "We don't like to have any drop out, but we've been reducing that."

Reeder said the percentage of kids quitting school at North High has decreased from 5.1 percent in 1998 to 4.45 percent at the end of the 2000 school year.

Schools must work on improving the transition of students from elementary to middle to high schools, Reeder said. Once students move on to high school as freshmen, they are required to earn at least 21 credits to graduate.

"Research shows if a kid doesn't earn at least three credits as a freshman that their chances of them dropping out is very high," Reeder said. "There's not too much hope for those students to get their 21 credits to graduate. Many students in the dropout category have a real transition problem."

Michael said the School Board has already implemented strategies to keep students from quitting school and suggested more programs be put into place.

Some of the other strategies he'd like to see in place are more literacy resource teachers in the high schools, an increased focus on academic achievement, more administrative and student service support, expanded alternative programs, all-day kindergarten and early childhood intervention, mandatory summer school for at-risk students and a revised grading policy.

Reeder said there are programs in place in which students and teachers mentor students at risk for dropping out. Another program, Maryland's Tomorrow Program, provides support from a trained professional before school and at the end of the day.

He said those professionals meet with a group of at-risk students and allow time for them to work on homework or other class work.

"Some kids have no support at home for doing homework," Reeder said.

Michael said the lack of in-home academic support for some students is one of the reasons he'd like to see schools concentrate on in-school achievement. Schools should "fix what they can," he said.

"We only have them six or seven hours a day," he said. "They're going to go back to their home life, they're going to go back to their friends. Why would you come if you're failing every subject?"

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