Lakeland principal to discuss dropouts

Published 10:32 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Educators from around the state will get a bit of advice on dropout prevention from a Suffolk principal next week.

Lakeland High School Principal Thomas Whitley and Suffolk Public Schools’ high school coordinator, Phyllis Sharpe, will lead a roundtable discussion Tuesday during the Governor’s Conference on Education in Richmond.

The pair also will give a presentation on Lakeland’s Z-block program, which is the linchpin of its dropout prevention efforts.

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The Z-block program is designed to give students who are falling behind the chance to graduate on time by earning extra credits after school.

“Our Z-block has been a huge success, and it has helped a lot of students reach their goal of graduating from high school,” Whitley said.

He said he is excited about the opportunity to share Lakeland’s experience with representatives from schools across Virginia.

“This is an excellent opportunity for people to become aware of the program that we have and what we are doing in Suffolk Public Schools,” he said.

Whitley said the discussion will show other schools that there are innovative ways to fix their problems, no matter the situation.

“You can reach those students who are ‘out of reach,’” Whitley said.

These students are the main focus of the Z-block program at Lakeland.

The program allows students who are far behind in their educational credits to stay after school Monday through Thursday in order to earn extra course credits.

Instead of earning only the normal seven credits during the year, these students can earn up to nine credits.

Whitley said the program was a result of increasing dropout rates at Lakeland.

“We had a huge problem with our dropout rate,” he said. “We realized we had to do something differently.”

The program, he explained, gives students who are considering dropping out another opportunity to turn things around.

Last year, 25 students graduated with help from the Z-block program.

The conference will include workshops on other education topics, such as curriculum and instruction, administration and finance, vocational education and technology and community relations.

Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said all of Suffolk’s school board members are registered to attend the event.