March 14, 2011

More Caldwell County School students are graduating from high school as recently indicated in the 2009-10 North Carolina Public Schools Annual Dropout Report for grades 9-12 showing that the number of students in Caldwell County dropping out of school decreased nearly 19 percent, a combined 33.4 percent improvement over a two-year period that has contributed to one of the lowest number of dropouts recorded in the last 20 years.

The annual dropout rate decreased from 4.83 percent to 3.93 percent reflecting a declining number of students dropping out of school that totaled 163 in the 2009-10 school year, a notable improvement from 201 the previous year.

"One student dropping out of school is one too many," said Superintendent Dr. Steve Stone. "We want every student to walk across the graduation threshold and find success in college and careers. However, we are extremely pleased with the progress that is being made across the school district as educators have focused on keeping students in school and on track for graduation."

Caldwell County's dropout rate represents the fewest number of high school dropouts reported since 2002-2003 and the fewest ever since exemptions for students leaving for community college were disallowed beginning in 1998. Of the total number of students dropping out, white males historically drop out of school most frequently. Males account for 61 percent of the dropouts, up from 56 percent in 2008-09 and white students account for 88 percent of the dropout population, down from 93.5 percent in 2008-09. Other ethnic groups reported in the dropout rate include 8 percent black, up from 2.5 percent and American Indian, Hispanic, Asian and other report less than five percent.

Attendance issues are again the primary reasons attributed statewide for students dropping out and for the sixth consecutive year, the state reports an increase in the "Enrollment in a Community College" which accounts for second highest reason students drop out of school. Since 1998, dropout rates have included students who leave the public schools to attend the community college.

Unlike the statewide trend, the number of students enrolling in a community college and coded as a dropout decreased in Caldwell County. In 2008-09, 97 students left the school system to participate in a local, community college program compared to 56 reportedly in 2009-10. Other reasons students drop out of school besides poor attendance and community college enrollment include long-term suspension and discipline problems.

Parent permission is always required before students are officially released from the pubic school system. Students and their parents are required to complete a comprehensive questionnaire during an exit interview.

To help struggling students overcome some of the obstacles they face, designated schools have a Family Support Team (CFST) comprised of a full-time nurse and a social worker who work closely with counselors, other school personnel, community agencies and families in providing education, prevention, acquisition of resources and case management services. "Family focused prevention, early intervention and positive transitions between school levels contribute to students being healthy, in school and ready to learn," said Student Support Director Jill Duffy. "Positioning school nurses, social workers and counselors in the school environment has benefitted the entire school system as these teams work together to evaluate students' academic, emotional, behavioral and health care needs, while providing direct intervention or referral services when appropriate."

Each high school offers Nova Net, which is an on-line credit recovery program that benefits many students with completing repeat coursework. The school system also utilizes a voice messaging system that contacts parents on a daily basis to report daily absences of students. In addition, the Caldwell County School System received grant funds last year from the North Carolina General Assembly Committee on Dropout Prevention totaling $175,000. The dropout prevention program entitled "A Suspension Alternatives Program" was fully implemented this school year.

Historically, choice of work over school has been included in the top three reasons why students drop out of school, but with continued strains on the local economy and high sustained employment rates, this is another factor that has influenced students to stay in school.

At the state level, North Carolina reported that 3.75 percent of students in grades 9-12 dropped out of school during the 2009-10 academic year, a record low for North Carolina.