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Successful communities know graduation rate importance

A high student dropout rate can have a negative impact on anarea’s ability to attract new business and industry while,conversely, a high graduation rate can have a positive impact onsuch recruiting efforts.

While many area school districts have room for needed growth, itappears Southwest Mississippi at least is on the right path towardhaving strong graduation rates as one indicator of economicdevelopment potential. Eight of 13 area school districts hadgraduation rates above the state average of 73.8 percent.

Both the Brookhaven and Lincoln County school districts hadgraduation rates above 80 percent. The city district had an 81.3percent rate while the county schools had an 82.1 percent rate,according to the latest state Department of Education totals.

Boosting graduation rates and preventing dropouts was the focus ofa state education official’s address this past week during thechamber of commerce’s quarterly membership breakfast.

Dr. Sheril Smith, dropout prevention program director, indicatedinvolvement in students’ lives – both on the part of parents andthe community at large – is a major factor in encouraging them tostay in school. Other factors include a student’s perseveringattitude, a respectful relationship with a teacher, satisfactionwith learning experience, a relevant curriculum and fair disciplinepolicies.

Recognizing the need for community involvement, the chamber’sMississippi Scholars program has surged to the forefront – bothlocally and statewide – with its efforts to recognize studentachievement at graduation time. This year, the program recognized165 students as Mississippi Scholars and generated $38,500 inscholarship funds that were awarded to 34 graduates.

Local school officials praise the Mississippi Scholars program andhope to utilize it further as tougher graduation requirements takeeffect for this year’s class of high school freshmen. Officials inthe Lincoln County School District, which had a 17.9 percentdropout rate, are acutely aware of the dropout issue and thepotential impact of programs like Mississippi Scholars.

A high graduation rate, along with a curriculum that properlyprepares students for the work world, sends a strong signal toprospective businesses and industries that a community is seriousabout education and economic development.

The essential aspect of a high graduation rate is keeping studentsin school, as they can’t graduate if the drop out early. Successfulcommunities recognize the importance of increasing the former whilelowering the latter.