Board focuses on dropout rate

Published 10:03 pm Thursday, June 18, 2009

With studies proving that nearly one in five Suffolk students will end up dropping out of high school, the city’s public school administration has high hopes for the steps it has taken this year to increase Suffolk’s graduation rate.

“I can’t believe we’re this high,” School Board Member Enoch Copeland said during a special retreat on Thursday. “We’re only a little bit better than Portsmouth.”

According to a presentation from Assistant Superintendent Kevin Alston, Suffolk had an 18.6 percent overall dropout rate for the class of 2008. Male students in the school system had a 21.6 percent dropout rate, and black students had a 20.8 percent rate.

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Alston said the school system is working to bring this trend to a halt. Specifically, the school system is creating a committee to address the dropout rate. The committee will include Superintendent Milton R. Liverman, two assistant superintendents, high school principals, middle and high school coordinators, middle- and high-school parents, representatives from the Suffolk Police Department and Department of Social Services and Judge Robert Brewbaker from the juvenile court system.

Liverman said Brewbaker’s presence will be a tremendous tool in fighting students’ truancy, and will play a vital role in bringing students back into the schools after they have been cutting class.

“We know a lot more about where these students are than in the past,” Liverman said. He added that the school system already has changed its tracking procedure for students. Additionally, he has challenged school administrators to identify “bubble” students, who may be on the verge of dropping out of school. He said that this year each high school principal was challenged personally to mentor five bubble students each.

Alston said the school system also is reorganizing its resources and creating a GED preparation for overage students.

Liverman said the dropout rate needs to be improved, because students cannot become successful citizens in the community if they do not acquire a GED, modified diploma or a diploma of some kind.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Failing to improve the dropout rate could have even broader implications for the school system in coming years, according to the superintendent.

Liverman said accreditation standards eventually will require high schools to have an 85-percent graduation rate in order to be fully accredited. Currently, all three high schools are fully-accredited, and Liverman said that preliminary SOL test results lead him to believe the high schools will be fullyaccredited again next year.

Yet no high school has an 85 percent graduation rate.

Copeland asked Liverman if he expected next year’s numbers to be better, given the changes being made.

“Yes sir,” Liverman said. “We’re going to see significant improvement.”