'State of the Schools' event brings focus to Beaufort County high school dropout rate

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 7, 2012 

Dr. Betty Molina Morgan, Executive Director of Grad Nation, speaks during the State of Our Schools Breakfast at the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence on Friday morning.

DELAYNA EARLEY, THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE

Offer different courses, such as home economics or auto shop.

Take students on university visits, or allow middle-schoolers to stay overnight at a college.

And start earlier -- elementary school is not too soon -- to identify students at the greatest risk of dropping out.

Those were some of the ideas discussed Friday at the first "State of the Schools" breakfast hosted by the Beaufort and Jasper county school districts to discuss ways to get students to graduate from high school on time. The Beaufort County district recently joined Grad Nation, a national program aimed at bringing graduation rates to 90 percent by 2020.

About 70 percent of Beaufort County students and 73 percent of Jasper County students graduate within four years of starting high school. The state rate is 71 percent. Nationally, 75 percent of students graduate on time.

Betty Molina Morgan, Grad Nation's executive director, told the 140 people at the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence that high school dropouts hurt the economy through lost earnings, lost spending and lost tax revenue.

"This is about economic advantage," she said. "If someone doesn't graduate high school, they can't contribute."

That message could be the key to getting a community -- not just a school district -- to address dropout rates, Hilton Head Island Middle School teacher Melissa Ledbetter said during a small-group discussion that followed Morgan's presentation.

"That drives it home," Ledbetter said.

School district officials have said they are committed to addressing dropout rates and college readiness this year. Aside from the Beaufort County district's iPad program, which officials hope will keep students engaged, superintendent Valerie Truesdale has said small changes are taking place. More teachers are hanging up their college pennants and discussing their alma maters, and some fifth-graders are participating in mock high school graduation ceremonies. Beaufort County Board of Education members have brainstormed ways to tackle the problem.

"It's an ambitious goal, but we've embraced it," Truesdale said of Grad Nation's call for a 90-percent on-time graduation rate.

Related content

  1. Beaufort, Jasper schools seek community help to raise graduation rates; Sept. 4, 2012
  2. Alliance for Excellent Education
  3. Grad Nation

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