Cape Girardeau School District looking at strategies to lower drop out rate

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Cape Girardeau School District plan for reducing the number of students quitting school may include earlier identification of those most at-risk to drop out through the use of surveys.

A team of district staff from the administrative office, high school, junior high and middle school has been meeting periodically to develop an "action plan" for dropout reduction in association with the district's participation in grant programming funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Participation includes travel to dropout prevention events, and several staff members, including Central High School principal Mike Cowan and assistant superintendent Sherry Copeland, most recently attended a conference in late June hosted by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education known as the Missouri Dropout Prevention Summit.

Staff also traveled to a similar national event in April in Baltimore.

At the Missouri conference, staff heard from Joplin, Webb City and St. Louis school districts which have implemented various strategies for dropout prevention, but they also came home with an idea of using a student retention strategy that has been primarily used by colleges, according to Cowan.

Found to be a reliable predictor of student dropouts in Utah high schools as well, the strategy would include surveying Cape Girardeau students in the eighth or ninth grade and using their answers as a guide for school staff to make a speedy intervention.

"It would be us trying to find that hook for them to drop out and at the same time find out what would make them stay in school," Copeland said. "A lot of times it is not just grades that make kids drop out, so the more information we have about their situation, the better chance we have to do something about it."

Cowan said he and other team members will discuss at what grade level a survey would be most effective -- and that it would most likely be given before a student enters the high school environment.

Copeland said dropouts are considered by many to be considered a high school problem but that indicators that show tendencies for students to drop out in the future really show up at a much younger age -- in junior high and middle school -- so the earlier staff could get a handle on individual students' issues, the better off they could fare later.

Cowan believes the use of surveys could also be useful for transfer students who need help adjusting to a new environment and transitioning to the high school's academic schedules and courses. He has pointed to the student mobility rate in Cape Girardeau as a major factor that affects the district's annual graduation rate.

"These kids who come to us, we rarely know anything about them, ever. And then we have to figure out how to help them," he said.

Student records sent from other schools rarely contain enough detail about a student for staff to help the student have the most effective transition possible, Cowan said, unless the student has a disability or other special needs, which are more extensively documented.

District staff has already met with a possible vendor to provide the surveys and both Copeland and Cowan say they will further examine the strategy as an option as the plan for reducing dropouts continues.

Staff said they also saw some strategies already in use in Cape Girardeau being used by other districts to reduce dropouts, such as emphasis on freshman intervention. Copeland said the district is focused on using the best practices that relate to Cape Girardeau public schools demographic.

Extending credit recovery programs to afterschool timeslots at the high school is another effort to get students who dropout and then return, back on track.

In dealing with the district's dropouts, there is "no cookie-cutter answer," Copeland said.

New data on 2012 dropouts and graduation rates is set to be released Aug. 14 by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In 2011, Cape Girardeau's four-year graduation rate, which calculates the number of students who graduate on time, was 67.5 percent. The graduation rate for students who took more than four years was 76.9 percent.

Administrators have said they believe graduation rates are likely to go up for 2012 due to several years' worth of efforts to increase by using more interventions.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

1000 S. Silver Springs Road, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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