School district continues dropout prevent efforts

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Brookhaven School District continues to focus on keepingkids in school in the 2008-09 school year. District officials saidwhile they’ve had marked success to date, they’re still looking tobuild continued improvement in their dropout preventionnumbers.

When the Mississippi Department of Education released graduationand dropout rates for the state in June, the report showedBrookhaven with an 81.3 percent graduation rate, as compared to thestate’s overall 73.8 percent. District Superintendent Lea Barrettsaid that is evidence of a strong system.

“The things we have in place currently are working,” she said.”Plus we have such a supportive community. It’s great to have acommunity that values education so much.”

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Assistant Superintendent James Tillman said one of the ways hehas worked to insure that the school district’s dropout rate stayslow is to assess the needs of “at-risk students” and take steps toaddress them.

“We do a basic needs assessment and look at the outcomes oftargeted groups, such as students who have failed two grades ormore, or who have been expelled or suspended more than 20 days,because those have a high rate for dropouts,” he said. “Then wework with them and try to get them back on the right track.”

Meanwhile, he said, students with other emotional or behaviorneeds or learning disabilities are given special attention aswell.

“We prioritize a list of needs of students with behavioral oremotional problems that could interfere with their abilities tolearn,” he said. “We try to bring in a little more parentalinvolvement in those cases, and in the cases of students withlesser social skills we bring in mentors and such to keep them onboard.”

And like Barrett said, so far it seems to be working. The city’sdropout rate of 5.1 percent was less than a third of the state’saverage, which rested at 15.9 percent. Tillman said that is theresult of having both short-term and long-term dropout preventiongoals for the district.

“Short-term, we want to provide an environment that promotesprolonged involvement from students in elementary through highschool,” he said. “In order to do that we take steps to do thingslike prevent bullying, engaging students to make better decisions,and hopefully that begins to decrease referrals to the office.”

In addition, he said, giving them a safe, drug-free environmentwill help improve their academic performance as well as theirattendance.

Long-term, he said, the goal is fairly all-encompassing.

“We’d like to not lose any of them. That’s what we’d ultimatelylike to see,” he said.

Both Barrett and Tillman said personal attention andunderstanding is the key to making children want to succeed.

“Children have to know you as an adult, a teacher, anadministrator care about them as a person,” he said. “They have tobelieve in you as an individual, that you have their benefit inmind.”

Meanwhile, administrators said, the help of Brookhaven PoliceCapt. Bobby Bell as the district’s retention officer has been amajor help. He has met with administrators at all the city schoolson how to keep children in the classroom. It takes a village toraise a child, she said.

“The precursor to that is that the people of the village have totalk,” Barrett said. “It takes a village to help keep a child inschool, and we get a lot of our help from parents who keep us inthe loop as well.”

Another thing that administrators are looking into is a studentdropout group. Last year BHS senior Cameron Jenkins organized agroup to encourage students to stay enrolled, and Tillman andBarrett said they’d like to continue his idea.

“Cameron initiated that himself, along with the blessings of theadministration,” Barrett said. “If you have successful students,they can use those peer relationships to influence other studentswho look to them for leadership.”