“This is the lowest we’ve seen, at least in all the years I have been here,” said Michael Barber, assistant superintendent of Pell City schools.
Helene Bettinger said the school system received word from state officials Friday the school system’s projected dropout rate was 2.32 percent.
“We’re very, very proud of that,” Barber said. “That tells us we are working smarter with meeting the needs of our students.”
Dr. Bobby Hathcock, superintendent of Pell City schools, said he could remember a time when the projected dropout rate was much higher.
“I can remember a time when it was at 27 percent,” Hathcock said, adding he was proud of the improvement in dropout rate percentages.
School officials say the statewide average for the projected dropout rate is 7.08, with Pell City almost 5 percent lower than the state average.
Barber said the recent percentage number is based on the past four-year history of students in grades 9-12.
Hathcock points out that while the dropout rate has decreased, the graduation rate for Pell City has increased.
He said the graduation rate has increased from 64 percent to 88 percent in the past four years.
Bettinger said Wednesday it could be a few months before the school system receives its new graduation rate percentage, but she expects it to improve as well.
She said dropout rates and graduation rates go hand in hand.
Barber said there are several reasons for the decrease in the dropout rate for the school system.
“We weren’t doing a real good job at tracking our students (in earlier years),” Barber said. “We’re doing much better at our record keeping.”
Barber said that’s not the only reason for the decrease in the percentage of students leaving school early.
He said the system as a whole is doing much better at retaining students, all students, because of programs developed to target students who were at risk of dropping out.
“It took a few years to find the programs that work,” Barber said. “Now, we are seeing more kids stay in school.”
He said more Pell City students are graduating, heading to trade schools, colleges and the military.
Barber said each school has intervention programs, which target individual students. Individual assistance prevents students from falling behind. That way, students don’t get discouraged and later drop out of school when they reach the age of 16.
Bettinger said at-risk students are identified as early as kindergarten or first-grade. Every year principals review progress of students and identify other students who may be at risk.
She said once an at-risk student is identified the intervention process begins.
“It’s a systemwide effort,” Bettinger said.
Barber said retired teachers work with elementary, junior high and high school students as part of the system’s intervention program.
Barber said a student’s progress is reviewed and monitored once a month and that progress is monitored from class to class and from school to school.
“We have taken ownership of that child throughout the system,” Barber said. “We’re talking about all the kids, not just students with academic problems - but all kids.”
He said some students fall behind and feel hopeless, if they get too far behind. Because of programs like the system’s credit recovery program, students can catch up and graduate with their peers.
Barber said through the credit recovery program, students have recovered more than 500 credits.
He said student activities and programs have also enhanced the desire of students to achieve academically. Students are required to maintain satisfactory classroom grades to participate in school activities and clubs.
Barber said some extracurricular activities have also helped students earn college scholarships, which encourages students to complete their high school education.
Pell City has seen a steady decrease in student dropout rates for the past seven years. Seven years ago the dropout percentage was 26.40; in 2007 the rate was 18.9 percent; in 2008 the dropout rate was 12 percent; 2009 - 8 percent; 2010 – 3.7; and last year Pell City had a projected 4-percent dropout rate.
Contact David Atchison at email@example.com