Programs Aim to Address WHS Dropout Rate

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By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, March 31, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Winnacunnet High School has one of the highest dropout rates in the region.

HAMPTON -- The dropout rate for Winnacunnet High School is slightly down from the prior year, but is still higher than any of the surrounding area's high schools.

A report from the state Department of Education (DOE) released last week shows that 39 students were considered "dropouts" during the 2007-08 school year.

In contrast, Portsmouth High School had 15 dropouts, while Exeter High School had 16 during that school year.

Winnacunnet School Board member Richard Goodman said while the numbers are down slightly, the board won't be satisfied until the number is zero.

"One of our prime goals is to reduce the dropout rate to zero," Richard Goodman said. "We are working at that.

"We hope to show further progress and become a leader in the state in getting to a point where we have as few dropouts as possible," Goodman said.

According to figures released by the DOE, the total enrollment at Winnacunnet High School in the fall of 2007 was 1,314 student. Of the 43 students who left during the year, four were considered "early exits" because they went on to earn their General Equivalency Diploma (GED).

Due to better data on what students do when they leave high school early, the department is now calling students who leave school, but continue to work on a diploma or certificate as "early exits." Students not immediately continuing with their education are labeled as "dropouts," and in Winnacunnet's case the number was 39.

Winnacunnet school officials said they have been working on lowering the high school's dropout rate since the 2005-06 school year, when 67 students left without completing their educational requirements.

In 2001-02, the four-year cumulative dropout rate at Winnacunnet was 17.2 percent. For 2007-08, the rate is 11.3 percent, the Department of Education indicated.

The school implemented Freshman Seminar and the Credit Recovery Program last year in an attempt to make transition to the cooperative high school easier for students coming from sending districts. This year, the school added the Jobs for America's Graduates program, paid for with grant money, which is a dropout prevention program.

Leslie Dolleman, head of the school's guidance department, said earlier this year all of these programs have helped and the number of dropouts is going down.

"I think all of these programs are having a positive effect and are making a difference even though it may not show," Dolleman said. "But the reasons why students drop out are as varied as the students themselves."

Dolleman said several students who failed to graduate last year opted against returning to get their diploma, while others who moved out of the area failed to enroll in another district.

Two students dropped out after attending school for just one day, while another two left to enter a Job Corps program.

The group of students that Dolleman sees as having the greatest possibility of dropping out is transfer students, who represent 10 percent of the student population at the school.

"What we find is that students who move into the district are the students that leave school more often," Dolleman said. "Those are the students I'm most concerned about because they have a hard time connecting.

"I don't know if it's because they're not academically prepared or if it's an economic or a social problem," she said.

One way the school is trying to keep these kids in school is by assigning a counselor to work with students who transfer into the district.

Statewide the drop-out rate has also decreased, according to DOE statistics.

In 2001-02, the four-year cumulative dropout rate was 15.1 percent. For 2007-08, the rate is 11.3 percent.

The department says the falling rate means that 600 more students stayed in school and graduated.

DOE Commissioner Lyonel Tracy said overall high schools have shown steady improvement. Some schools have made exceptional progress, he said, cutting their rates by half.

Officials said the number of dropouts throughout the state should decrease dramatically after a new law takes effect this September that will raise the age at which students can drop out from 16 to 18.

The new law requires students to have a plan for completing their education before leaving traditional classroom instruction. The plan could include work study, night school, preparing for a high school equivalency test or participating in alternative programs.

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