Recently, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction released its Consolidated Data Report to the public. This report looks at school suspensions and expulsions, crime and violence, as well as drop out events and rate for the 2014-15 school year.
The dropout rate is one of the particular data points that have incited much discussion, especially here in Scotland County. It was reported, and correctly so, that Scotland County is among the top 10 districts in the state for dropout rates in 2014-15. This was not new information however. This data was something that we as a district reported to our board and to the public back in August. In order to address our dropout rate, and more importantly, ensure that our students are successful, we have initiated even more interventions and strategies already this school year.
For example, the In-School Suspension Center at Shaw allows students who have been suspended to serve their out-of-school suspension time and keep up with their assignments so as not get behind in school and the Drop-In Program at the high school allows students who may have work or child care challenges to take classes in the afternoons or at times that are more conducive to their schedule. We also have a renewed focus and effort on those students that go to Shaw in helping them transition successfully back to their home school. A dropout prevention team of school and district administrators are meeting weekly to discuss at-risk students and put plans in place to prevent them from dropping out. And as we reported to our board and to the public during our Mid-Year Review meeting earlier this month, we are already seeing positive results. This year, twenty-one students have dropped out thus far as compared to thirty-nine at this time last year. Our ultimate goal is to have zero dropouts, but the decrease we are seeing is a step in the right direction.
We are also continuing to provide opportunities for our students to be successful and leave high school career and college ready. We’ve expanded our college course offerings to not only juniors and seniors but to sophomores as well allowing more of our students the opportunity to earn free college credits while in high school. One of the barriers to pursuing a college degree is sometimes the cost to take the courses. Through our partnership with Richmond Community College, our students can take college level courses (many on the high school campus) and earn free college credit. This puts our students at a distinct advantage in the competitive college admissions process and alleviates some of the cost of college for our students and their families. We also recognize that college is not the track for some of our students. Some of our students will leave the high school and pursue a career in the military or work force. Our active and growing JROTC program helps equip our students for the rigor of serving
our country in one of the branches of the armed forces. Our Career and Technical Education Program (CTE) is continuing to expand and offer more classes and provide more opportunities for our students to earn industry recognized credentials and certifications. Seventy-five percent of our high school students take CTE courses with our students earning in 2014-15, 653 industry recognized credentials and certifications. Data also shows us that students who take CTE courses graduate at a higher rate than students who do not, so by expanding our CTE course offerings and encouraging students to take these career exploration classes, we anticipate seeing our overall graduation rate continue to climb.
And finally, one other headline that has recently been in the newspaper is our teen pregnancy rate. It was reported, and again correctly so, that Scotland County is one of the top 10 counties in the state for teen pregnancies. I do think it is fair to note that although the ranking for our county is higher than last year’s, the actual number of teen pregnancies has been reduced. I think it’s also important to point out that two-thirds of those teen pregnancies fall into the 18-19 year old range and most of those students are no longer in school, however it is an issue that we as a school system and county must continue to address. In our district, we are continuously evaluating our Healthy Living curriculum and are constantly looking for ways to that we can help reduce the teen pregnancy rate. Our curriculum teaches abstinence first as well as teaching students how to respond to real life situations while promoting a healthy lifestyle. We will continue to expand our community and state partnerships with organizations that provide training and materials for our schools. Working with these agencies, such as SmartStart, NC, School Health Training Center, Scotland County Health Department, and Shift NC, allows us to combat the problem on many fronts and to educate our students and community.
We as a school district and community know that we have many challenges. But we also know, and sometimes must be reminded, that we have many, many more strengths and reasons to celebrate. Looking at the data, keeping the success of all of our students at the forefront, and with the community’s support and partnership, there is no challenge too big for us to overcome. Our children, our community, and our collective future are dependent upon it.
Ron Hargrave, Ed.D. serves as superintendent of Scotland County Schools.