01/15/07 — Duplin dropout rate declines, but board wants it even lower

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Duplin dropout rate declines, but board wants it even lower

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 15, 2007 1:49 PM

After months of being asked by county residents for information about the dropout rate in Duplin County schools, officials finally presented it during the Board of Education's meeting last week.

"I think this answered the questions they had," assistant superintendent Dr. Randall Shaver said. "We're happy to provide this information."

During the last five years, Duplin County schools have seen their dropout rate improve by more than 1 percent.

Since 2001, the dropout rate has fallen from a high of 6.54 percent to 5.23 percent in 2005. In terms of pure numbers, that means nearly 30 fewer students dropped out in 2005 than in 2001.

"We're nowhere near where we need to be, but that's good," Shaver said. "That's a significant decrease."

But it's not good enough.

"Our dropout rate is a little above state average. That's nothing to brag about. We need to get that rate down," Shaver continued. "It needs work. We need to be better than the state average."

Over the last five years, Duplin County has had only the fifth best average rate of the surrounding counties -- 5.43 percent.

Since 2001, Wayne County has averaged a 4.87 percent rate, Clinton City a 4.91 percent rate, Onslow County a 4.86 percent rate, Sampson County a 4.99 percent, Jones a 5.74 percent, Lenoir a 5.87, Pender a 5.6 percent rate and the state average has been 5.07 percent.

Leading those dropouts are Hispanic males, then Hispanic females, followed by black males and white males, then black and white females and then Asian males and females.

Looking at the school population as a whole, ninth-graders who have been retained at least once are five times more likely to drop out, and those 10th-graders who have been previously retained are three times more likely to drop out.

The goal, of course, Shaver said, is to have no students dropping out.

"I truly and honestly believe that anything other than 0 percent dropout is unacceptable," he said. "We have to be realistic, but I think we need to claim each one of these kids as our own and try to get them to graduate in four years."

To do that, the county is implementing several strategies that officials believe will work.

Among those are twilight and other evening classes, a computer-based remedial tool called NovaNet and possibly an early college high school.

NovaNet and the twilight schools are designed to allow students the ability to recover credits they miss during the school year, whether because of absences or failed assignments.

Early college, which is something that school officials are currently studying, is a program in conjunction with James Sprunt Community College that would allow students to attend a fifth year of high school, yet also earn two years of college credit.

But the purpose behind each of those, Shaver said, is to give students an avenue for staying engaged and in school.

"We want to make it a little more attractive for them to attend school. We think these have the flexibility to work for a lot of different kids," he said.

He also explained that there are changes coming to the county's graduation rate.

For 2006, it's projected to be about 97.8 percent.

But next year, with a new formula -- one that follows students through all four years of high school, not just their senior year -- coming into effect, that number is going to plummet, Shaver said.

He estimated that Duplin's will be about 76 percent.

"That's a rough estimate, but I don't think too many schools in North Carolina will be above 80 percent," he said.

But, he continued, it will give a better picture of how many students are graduating.

"It's going to be hard for people to understand, but if we're going to be honest, I think it's the correct formula to use because it looks at students over four years, not just one," Shaver said.

Improving both the dropout and graduation rates, he said, is going to take some work, but with the programs they're looking to implement, he's hoping to see some significant improvements within the next couple of years.