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Cape's graduation rate is lower than those in other area districts that face similar or worse socioeconomic conditions

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The processional for the Central High School Class of 2012.
(Fred Lynch) [Order this photo]
Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series dealing with graduation rates.

There they are, in black and orange, smiles on their faces. Their eyes seem to look beyond the camera lens for what comes next. They made it, and they'll always be in those graduating class photos hanging in the hallways of Cape Girardeau Central High School. Some might be the "lucky ones," who just scraped by, making it to class just enough days, or scoring just high enough on the final. But they count toward reaching 67.5 percent, that just-not-good-enough number so many others want to see change.

The four-year graduation rate of the Cape Girardeau School District in 2011 wasn't good enough to best the rates of other Southeast Missouri districts of similar size, like Poplar Bluff and Sikeston, even though both have student populations with higher rates of poverty. Students' issues linked to poverty are considered the foremost reason for dropping out of school. Even in the Charleston School District in Mississippi County, ranked 29th out of 114 counties in the state for highest crime index in 2010, and where the percentage of students living in poverty is twice that of Cape Girardeau, more students are graduating.

"It's hard to put your thumb on any one thing," said James Johnson, chief deputy juvenile officer for Missouri's 32nd Judicial Circuit.

Johnson began heading an alternative classroom for suspended students at the former juvenile detention center in Cape Girardeau in October. About 90 percent of the students who attend are Cape Girardeau School District students. More than 170 students worked with district teachers in a classroom supervised by juvenile officers during the last school year, Johnson said. Some were there more than once.

Often the suspended students come from low-income, single-parent households, and juvenile officers are already familiar with them. The officers have been to those households, knocking on the door, trying to find out why the student isn't at school. Once the students are in the alternative classroom, problems that cause students to get in trouble are identified and dealt with when possible, Johnson said. Students don't miss homework during suspension with the classroom alternative in place, and Johnson hopes that could improve the district's graduation rate.

Johnson and other juvenile officers aren't the only ones chasing down students to find out why they aren't in school, in Cape Girardeau or elsewhere.

A parent liaison to fight the dropout problem is something the United Way of Southeast Missouri's executive director, Nancy Jernigan, believes may help Cape Girardeau's graduation rate.

This was the first year the high school had its own liaison; the previous year, it shared one with the junior high.

Jernigan said the liaison, who visits homes and is a social worker who can guide families through issues like a lack of transportation and finances, helped around 20 students find their way back into Central High School in the last school year.

But simply finding students is always going to be a problem for the district, according to Central's principal of 11 years, Mike Cowan. He's been at the helm at the high school while the district's percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch has risen steadily to an all-time high of 61.5 percent in the 2011-2012 school year.

Family financial troubles show up at the high school in the form of constant student mobility, Cowan said, and most of the time, the high school's staff can't keep up, nor do they get the chance. In the last school year, 327 students enrolled late, transferred to another district or dropped out. That number is equivalent to an entire grade level at the high school. Many who enroll late are also already academically behind, Cowan said. Ones who leave are often never heard from again and are counted as dropouts unless documented as enrolling in another district.

Cowan said he believes Cape Girardeau seems to attract a transient community because jobs and low-priced housing are thought by many to be most available in the region's largest city. But many who move to the area find they can't make it work here, either, he said.

Poplar Bluff school officials have cracked down hard in recent years to get truant students back in class and dropouts to return for a regular diploma or GED. Alternative school setups are also working in Sikeston and Charleston, administrators and teachers in both districts say.

Lisa Harris, Charleston High School's counselor, has seen 24 years' worth of graduating classes during her time there. Having a smaller student population might make keeping students from dropping out a little easier than in Cape Girardeau, she said.

"Everyone knows everyone," Harris said. "I usually know right away when there is a problem that could cause one to drop out."

Harris deals with students often who have a family member or friends in prison and said she "gets honest with them real quick about where they could end up."

"We tell them they can end the cycle," she said.

A Cape Girardeau senior who missed graduating in May for lacking credits after she dropped out and is now in summer school said the high school's counseling staff and teachers are attentive to students' needs. There was nothing the staff could have done to alter her decisions about school, although they did try, she said.

Chelsea Roberts, 17, dropped out in February after only attending Central since the beginning of the year. She had been kicked out of her house and was living with friends and working while trying to stay in school, she said. Working 30 hours a week at a fast-food restaurant wasn't helping her enough, so she dropped out of school to work more, she said. A counselor told her to think hard about that decision and offered to rearrange her class schedule, she said. She was also made aware of all options she had to return to school and graduate, like attend the district's alternative school.

Cape Girardeau's Alternative Education Center offers a credit recovery program. The high school will add an after-school option next year as well.

Other districts producing better graduation rates also offer credit recovery programs. Charleston's has helped most students who get behind and miss credits needed for graduation to catch up, Harris said.



Pertinent address:

1000 S. Silver Springs Road, Cape Girardeau, MO

Fact Check
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"Ones who leave are often never heard from again and are counted as dropouts unless documented as enrolling in another district."

There are other situations besides "enrolling in another district" which allow a district to count a student as persisting towards graduation. I think you'll find that districts with higher graduation rates have developed methods to track these students, and are taking full advantage of all the ways that DESE lets you count them towards graduation. Now this takes an extra paid position or two to manage properly, and this position is usually one of those much maligned, underworked, overpaid Board office administrative bean counters, which many, including the teachers and the OP on this thread, might consider to be superfluous and a waste of money . . .

-- Posted by Marion_Morrison on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 7:35 AM

The writer better double check their facts. I heard that the board office cut several teachers at the high school and they were not having credit recovery program at the high school.

-- Posted by Smiles1 on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 7:50 AM

There are a lot of things wrong with this article. Did anyone proof this thing and fact check it before going to print? I think the graduation rate that's quoted is supposed to be for the 2012 graduating class, not 2011.

There are a ton of reasons for the low graduation rate and hiring more bean counters isn't going to do anything to help the situation. The high school needs to take a very close look at its focus and begin to include the at-risk students. The HS does a very good job focusing on the high achievers and the middle of the road students. (Though it could do a better job of pushing those middle of the road students.)

The article quoted one student who had dropped out. Really? You could only find one person to talk to? In the interest of presenting two sides of the situation, shouldn't the reporter have spoken to someone who dropped out and didn't feel supported?

The process should begin with an honest analysis of what they do well and what they don't do well. Sometimes the hardest place to look for an answer is in the mirror. Here are a few places to start:

1. Are we intervening BEFORE a student is failing a class or after the failure has been identified?

2. What interventions are we using? Which ones have worked? Which ones haven't? What data are we using to track each intervention?

3. If an intervention hasn't worked, are we getting rid of it and replacing it with something else?

4. Have we contacted a high school that has been successful in turning around the graduation rate and have we picked their brains on strategies that worked?

5. Do we embrace or shun offers of assistance from local organizations?

6. Have we truly tracked and evaluated the successfulness or failure of the PAS classes? What changes have we made to the course content and instruction?

7. Do we have someone reaching out to the student who drops out or do we just let them go?

8. Does the district-level administration support the leadership of the high school and accept the explanations or do they dig deeper and insist that hard data and facts be used to explain this?

9. Put the information from DESE on a simple bar graph and see if anything jumps out at you. Break it out by ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, etc. What do you see?

The bottom line is this: reporting the numbers doesn't do a thing to address the problem. The students, parents and taxpayers deserve to know all the facts: the good, the bad and the ugly. They also deserve to know what has been done and whether it was a success or failure; and they deserve to know what the next steps are. This downward spiral will continue until the real issues are identified and dealt with.

The sad part is, I seriously doubt anything will change until there is a change in administration in multiple buildings.

-- Posted by MouseintheHouse on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 8:22 AM


Let's put 100% of the blame on the teachers, administrators, and schools. The lazy unmotivated students and their lowlife parent(s) have no responsibility for their own education. Typical nanny state government worshippers refusing to put the blame where it belongs.

-- Posted by FreedomFadingFast on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 8:39 AM

In order to graduate, you have to show up. Cape Public Schools decided to move the High school out of town. It is no longer within walking distance to the LES families. Then, you change the start time to 7:30. The "bussed" kids have to get on the bus at 6:45 a.m. It actually takes some effort to show up, thus making it "too difficult" for families who have already been through generations of this entitlement mentality.

-- Posted by Right_winger on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 9:05 AM

I'm sure the numbers will improve this year because of the new dress code. Bahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!

-- Posted by Sameolesameole on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 9:05 AM

Who is getting paid to fix these problems? THERE is where the problem needs to be addressed. Blaming teachers and parents is asinine.

-- Posted by sledgehammer on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 10:42 AM

The school acknowledges they have a large number of low income families. Do they really think these families are going to spend money on uniforms for a school that shows no interest in them( unless they are gifted athletes).

-- Posted by sports11 on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 12:05 PM

Me'Lange, the change in the way the graduation rates are figured was the topic of an article the Missourian ran months ago, and since you missed it or don't remember it, then I'm sure others are in the same boat. It would have been helpful for the paper to incude a portion of the points made in that article as well here as well.

-- Posted by wuzthinking on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 12:42 PM

Tiwercs: you raise a good point, even if you did it in a mean-spirited manner. Bad parenting and lazy students do account for a part of the problem. However, without accurate documentation of the reasons for dropping out, we won't know the true number.

If, however, you take a look at national dropout statistics, the majority of the students who drop out are not lazy students, nor are they the result of bad parenting. I'm sure you are not implying that 33% of the students at CGPS are lazy or poorly parented. For a number to play with, let's say that 10% of the students who dropped out are the result of being lazy or poorly parented. What about the remaining 23%? Are they worth looking at and trying to figure out why they felt like they couldn't succeed at the school setting?

Some students are lazy and will never see that hard work and a focus on learning are the answer. Some parents are lousy parents. You are right. If, however, your assumption is that the 33% who dropped out are the results of laziness and poor parenting, then I am going to have to disagree with you. I know of plenty of students who excel at school despite poor parenting.

You say I'm throwing blame at teachers and administrators. You are correct, I am. There's a systemic problem here and the members of the system must be replaced or "fixed".

What is your explanation for the high dropout rate? (Here are some I will share with you: http://www.dropoutprevention.org/major-r...

What ideas do you propose to fix it? (Here are some of mine: http://www.dropoutprevention.org/effecti...

For me, the issue goes even deeper. We still continue to teach our students in a system that was custom-made to produce factory and farm workers. We no longer live in an assembly line world. We live in a technology- based world and our school systems had better realize that our children are learning more material at an exponentially faster rate by watching YouTube and iTunes U videos than they can in the assembly-line, factory-worker, farm-hand system that is being used today.

The ugly truth is that MANY students learn IN SPITE OF the current educational system and NOT because of it.

-- Posted by MouseintheHouse on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 1:13 PM

What I want to know is how many of the graduates had classless family memebers with bull horns blowing when they walked across the stage.

-- Posted by wuzthinking on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 1:27 PM

Boy do I stand corrected. You're right Mouse and Melange. You both are experts on everything. I bow to you. I have seen the light. Students and parents have no responsibility for their education whatsoever. It always has been and always will be the teachers fault. The nanny state is responsible for everyone and everything. No room nor need for personal responsibility.

-- Posted by FreedomFadingFast on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 2:08 PM

I'm a graduate of Cape Central from back in the day and I'm proud of it. I wish some of these kids would understand that the High Schools days are some of the best in the life of a person. This drop out rate is disturbing because I know we can do better than that. Please it is not all of the administrators or teachers fault, majority of this starts at home at the breakfast table each and every day with the parent/parents. We have good Public Schools in the City of Cape Girardeau the tax payers of Cape Girardeau have been very generous over the years in provding funding for our schools. We all have to fix this problem every one of us including the parents not just the administrators and teachers the rebuilding process starts at home.

-- Posted by swampeastmissouri on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 2:37 PM

It's ALL the fault of teachers and administrators. Melange says so. 100% of students beg to learn and graduate, but the teachers and administration won't let them.

-- Posted by FreedomFadingFast on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 3:18 PM

Forgive me for asking but does expertise equate with results?

-- Posted by puzzleme on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 3:27 PM

In 2010-2011 school year ( most current data), you will see out of 526 public high schools in Missouri, CHS ranked 447. These numbers are based on MAP scores. Big surprise . These data can be found at schooldigger.com.

-- Posted by sports11 on Sun, Jun 17, 2012, at 3:48 PM

Tiwercs: please go back and read my second post. Then, eat a little humble pie. I stand by my premise that you cannot use laziness and poor parenting to account for this percentage.

The administrators run the district and buildings, the teachers present the material, the students must take it in and process it. Since the delivery system involves administrators and teachers, they do deserve some of the credit and some of the blame.

This will only change when we begin to teach in a manner that is appropriate for the time we live in.

I applaud CGPS for looking at 1:1 education. It's a step in the right direction. CGPS does a lot of things right. It's just that, in this instance, something major is wrong and needs to be fixed. The HS must find ways to actively engage the 30% who are disconnected.

-- Posted by MouseintheHouse on Mon, Jun 18, 2012, at 5:49 AM

Aw heck, let's just cut some more funding...education isn't what the right is interested in anyway. Cutting it yes.....helping with problems, never.

-- Posted by Mudflopper on Mon, Jun 18, 2012, at 3:38 PM

Im so sick of hearing that it's always the Parents and Students fault! If we here in Cape would concentrate on academics rather than fluff like performing arts and sports complexes we might just accomplish some academic results. Too many chiefs and not enough good qualified indians!

There in lies much of the problem. Not to mention people like Tiwerks who thinks he or she is perfect in every way. "Lazy" could also describe many of our educators and administrators in my opine.

-- Posted by GREYWOLF on Mon, Jun 18, 2012, at 4:35 PM

What's your beef wolf? I recanted. It's all the teachers and administrators fault. I was wrong. I now freely admit that students and their parents should have no responsibility for their education. The fact that other schools have peeforming arts and sports and yet graduates 90+% of their students is proof positive that performing arts and sports are a leading cause of poor graduation rates. As usual, you are right(as always) and I am wrong.

-- Posted by FreedomFadingFast on Mon, Jun 18, 2012, at 8:22 PM

Well, that time you were right!

-- Posted by GREYWOLF on Tue, Jun 19, 2012, at 5:49 AM

"Jernigan said the liaison, who visits homes and is a social worker who can guide families through issues like a lack of transportation and finances, helped around 20 students find their way back into Central High School in the last school year."

I think this might be helpful, but the social worker is not in the classroom. These 1:1 conversations with families need to happen with teachers and families, too. School personnel need to witness what a child goes through to get to school and stay there. There are so many factors that present good attendance and progress towards graduation. We will find the answer if we dig into the family situation that kids are facing.

-- Posted by RightSaidFred on Mon, Jul 9, 2012, at 12:04 PM

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By the numbers

SchoolStudents in poverty (%)Free/reduced lunch (%) Attendance (%)Grad rate* (%)
Poplar Bluff28.961.192.977.2
Cape Girardeau18.961.593.367.5

Source: Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

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