Bursting the bubble created by the recent high school graduation buzz was a number surfacing Wednesday, June 15, during our county’s latest School Board meeting: 421 students who were supposed to graduate in 2010 from Chesterfield County Public Schools (CCPS) ended up as dropouts.
“This is not just a school-based problem; this is a community problem,” said Dr. Beth Teigen, head principal at L.C. Bird High School, “because when kids aren’t in school they’re usually finding their own form of entertainment, which isn’t always within constraints of what the community would like them to be doing.”
That afternoon, Teigen, along with other Dropout Prevention Task Force team members, confronted School Board members on the issue and provided a presentation to illuminate the problem. During the exchange with the School Board, team members asserted that various social issues emerge in conjunction with the county’s high school dropout rate – increased crime, welfare, and unnecessary costs, etc.
Speaking on behalf OF the Prevention team, Teigen said CCPS needed to be transparent in acknowledging this as a problem in Chesterfield County. “I think 10 percent of students that should have graduated and didn’t is significant,” she said. She also expressed how she thought the problem was greater because of the need for each high school to obtain state accreditation.
On the contrary, Superintendent of CCPS, Dr. Marcus Newsome expressed that there should be no assumption that the 421 were all necessarily dropouts. He said they only did not graduate with their “cohorts” – the group with which they were anticipated to graduate from high school – suggesting that some may in fact be taking courses to graduate through an alternative route.
Nonetheless, nearly all the people attending the meeting agreed the issue extended to a k-12 (kindergarten through 12th grade) problem for the county’s school system. Teigen’s solution to combat the dropout problem is implementing preventative strategies at the elementary school level and addressing retention problems throughout all grades.
Director of Middle Schools for CCPS Robert Wingfield agrees that focusing on early solutions is the best way to solve the problem: “… If we’re not working with them in sixth grade, if we have not already started to make an impact there, it’s way too late when they get to ninth grade to try to get things turned around, particularly if you’re talking about graduation,” he said. “If they’re not in great shape when they come out of middle school … it’s very difficult for the high school to pick them up and in three years change the way kids have been looking at school and suddenly become successful.”
Prevention Team members in their presentation suggested that CCPS considers the incorporation of effective research-based prevention practices such as: increasing awareness of the issue, early intervention and family involvement. CCPS officials are also considering research-based intervention practices as well.
“…This is a big issue, a complex issue,” said School Board chairman, Dianne Pettitt, “and I don’t think it’s going to be solved overnight … I think we got a tremendous start; and I don’t think we’re all going to be able to get our minds around all the different details and aspects of this, but it certainly is a beginning point.”