Gains seen, but more improvement sought

Published 5:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2008

Statistics released Wednesday by the Mississippi StateDepartment of Education show a slight increase in the graduationrate within the Lincoln County School District.

Data for the graduating class of 2007 show a 5.7 percentincrease in the graduation rate over the class of 2006, rising from76.4 percent to 82.1 percent. The county’s graduation rate exceedsthe state average of 73.8 percent by 8.3 percent.

“We want our rates to better than that, of course, but we’reimproving,” said Assistant Superintendent Letha Presley.

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Presley attributed the improvement to various state and localprograms – such as Get on the Bus and Mississippi Scholars – aimedat increasing student achievement which, she said, ultimatelyresults in increased graduation rates .

Presley said the district has also implemented tutoring programsfor at-risk students based on test scores and teacherrecommendations, and lowered the teacher/student ratio by addingnew teacher units. Another local program – the Lincoln CountySchools Dropout Prevention Plan – has been submitted to the stateboard of education for implementation next year.

“We’re working to make our students more aware of the dangers ofdropping out through our teachers, counselors and principals,”Presley said. “If the students experience success, that’s going toencourage them to stay in school and graduate. The better a studentfeels about himself, the more inclined he will be to finishup.”

Though the district’s graduation rate is improving, the 82.1percent tally still leaves a dropout rate of 17.9 percent. Thatexceeded the statewide average of 15.9 percent by two percentagepoints.

The specific fate of Lincoln County’s dropouts is difficult todetermine, Presley said.

County records show the 2007 class came into high school with anet membership of 205 and graduated 154 four years later. But 17.9percent of the class’ net membership leaves 168 students – meaning14 of the students are unaccounted for in the numbers.

Presley said the missing students are probably at Copiah-LincolnCommunity College, participating in the General EducationDevelopment program.

“Lincoln County has no GED program. Our students who are notable to get a traditional diploma or certificate are sent toCo-Lin, and that counts against us,” she said.

Co-Lin Director of Adult Education Jeff Posey said schooldistricts are allowed to include former students who take and passthe GED test in the graduation rates, but the information on thosestudents is confidential and cannot be released to the schooldistrict without student permission.

He said the state department of education is working on a planthat would allow the information to be sent back to the districts,but currently, the information goes largely unreported.

Posey agreed with Presley’s assessment that the Lincoln CountySchool District’s graduation rate is slightly skewed because ofthis. While the Brookhaven School District is contracted withCo-Lin to use the GED program in-house and receives the data, hesaid, the county district does not and its GED students are notalways heard from.

“Those few who are unaccounted for in Lincoln County areprobably enrolled in our program,” Posey said. “Most of those whodrop out of school realize they need that GED for better jobopportunities, and that’s when they really get motivated toenroll.”

Not all of the district’s dropouts pursue a GED, however.

Some move straight into high-paying industry jobs. Presley saidthe lure of the paycheck is historically a problem in LincolnCounty.

“When these students are 17 years old and looking at finishingschool or quitting to go into an industry and make $30 per hour,what do you say then?” she said. “Some are looking more atimmediate rewards without thinking about the long-term effects ofnot having a high school education.”

Presley said the problem of industry siphoning off students hasa lot to do with family connections and the ease of attaining suchemployment.

“We have a lot of offshore workers and boiler-makers in LincolnCounty – a lot of families that have connections to these types ofindustries,” she said.

As for the district’s 82.1 percent completion rate – comprisedof students who receive certificates or occupational diplomasrather than academic diplomas, such as special education students -Presley said any dropout would show up enlarged in the finalnumbers.

“Typically, we have such a small number of these students thatany who drop out could have an inflated impact on the rates,” shesaid. “Most of our special ed. kids usually graduate becausethey’re taught on their academic level to a specificcertificate.”