Board discusses dropout prevention

Published 11:12 pm Wednesday, February 2, 2011

High school principals are using such varied methods as tutoring, mentoring and online learning to help students at risk of dropping out graduate on time.

The Suffolk School Board heard a report on the graduation rate improvement efforts during its annual retreat Wednesday at King’s Fork High School.

“You can see that we are trending in the right direction,” Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Chavis told the board members. Suffolk’s on-time graduation rate rose from 77.9 for the class of 2009 to 80.5 last school year. The dropout rate decreased, from 14.7 percent to 12 percent.

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Representatives from the three high schools told the board about the efforts at their individual schools. Some were similar programs, but others also differed from building to building.

All the schools are using tutoring, mentoring and general “extra help” from classroom teachers to help improve students’ achievement. They all also have some sort of freshman transition program for rising ninth-graders to get comfortable with their new environment.

However, varied programs include advisory groups at King’s Fork High School; Z-block at Lakeland High School; and SOL Academy at Nansemond River High School.

In advisory groups at King’s Fork, students receive advisory lessons twice a month during their first-block class on things like goal-setting, responsibility and respect. The goal is for each advisor to build a positive rapport with each student and maintain constant contact with parents.

At Lakeland, the Z-block program is in its second year. It allows motivated students to stay after school in a structured environment and work to catch up where they are behind.

Last year, students in the class increased their overall grade point averages by an average of 53 percent, Principal Thomas Whitley said. All of the seniors graduated either with their class or after summer school, he added.

“You must have the right people on the bus,” Whitley said, stressing the importance of choosing the right personnel for the job.

At Nansemond River, the SOL Academy allows students to prepare for the Standards of Learning exams during the summer at the school. Nansemond River also requires mandatory study halls during the day for athletes, Principal Thomas McLemore said.

The board members and superintendent acknowledged they realize the vital role that early education plays in preparing students for success later.

“It’s not just a high school issue,” Superintendent Deran Whitney said. “It starts at pre-K.”

Board members also stressed that parent involvement is key.

“We’ve got to get the parents to realize the importance of Z-block and other things so that the students will take advantage,” board member Diane Foster said.