KFHS considers dropout problem

Published 11:30 pm Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dropouts certainly aren’t unique to King’s Fork High School – or to Suffolk or anywhere else — but the school took a proactive step in tackling the issue with a roundtable discussion Wednesday.

A dozen community and business leaders attended the event chaired by principal Suzanne Moore in the school’s media center.

Moore laid out the issue before questions were asked and solutions suggested.

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The Virginia Department of Education has placed King’s Fork High and Lakeland High on a list of provisionally accredited schools after both failed to meet graduation rate targets.

King’s Fork’s dropout rates are headed in the right direction, Moore noted, decreasing from 21 percent in 2008 to 13 percent in 2011.

On-time completion, carrying a state benchmark of 85 percent for full accreditation, has climbed steadily from 68 percent to 81 percent during that period.

For Lakeland, dropout rates have decreased from 27 percent in 2008 to 12.5 percent in 2011, and on-time completion has risen from 71 percent to 82 percent.

At the fully accredited Nansemond River High School, dropout and on-time completion rates were, respectively, 15 percent 82 percent in 2008, and 5 percent and 91 percent in 2011.

According to Moore, accreditation problems at King’s Fork and Lakeland arrived unexpectedly when in 2011 graduation indexes were tied to accreditation. “I knew it was going to impact our ability (to maintain accreditation),” she said.

Participants in the roundtable discussion agreed that dropouts are a community and societal issue that many high schools are just left to deal with.

Suffolk councilman Charles Parr said: “Is the problem down here (earlier in the education of the student)? When it gets to this point, you are playing catch-up.”

Lori White, of Sentara Obici Hospital, said parents should take responsibility when a future student is still an infant.

“You can’t blame the kindergarten teacher, because if they’re not ready when they start kindergarten they’re going to be behind all the way,” she said.

Car dealership owner Mike Duman, also a Suffolk councilman, said it makes sense to split high school students into two groups: the less academically strong who want to pursue vocational training and those who will continue their education at the post-secondary level.

He proposed pairing dropout-risk students with local businesses for mentorship and work experience, saying, “To me, there would always be a demand for those (less-academic) students to come in at an entry level and work part time.”

“You could stick me in an algebra class and you could beat me with a stick, but it isn’t happening for me,” he confided.

East End Baptist Church youth and young adults Pastor William Newsome said finding a solution to what is effectively an issue across American is no simple task.

“I don’t want to be pessimistic, but people have been having this conversation for years,” he said.

Suffolk Center for the Cultural Arts Executive Director Jackie Cherry suggested involving organizations in neighborhoods with more dropouts. In Suffolk, participants heard, that includes Hobson and downtown.

Joe Brown, from Suffolk Farm Fresh, supported an idea Newsome raised of utilizing social media like Facebook and Myspace.

“If we don’t have computers in some of these houses, a lot of those other electronic devices people do have,” he said.

Besides Wednesday’s roundtable, which Moore said will be repeated after the 2012 graduation, King’s Fork is pursuing other solutions, including special support for first-time freshmen, allowing students to repeat failed courses online and one-on-one mentoring of students with academic and behavioral concerns.

“Positive character-building” is taught school-wide during advisory block, and the school day extends to an eighth block for seniors requiring one or two classes for on-time graduation.

According to Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw, Moore’s event was the first of its kind in Suffolk.

“Schools sometimes have community members and partners-in-education representatives serving on school improvement committees, but what Dr. Moore organized is unique,” Bradshaw stated in an email.