Superintendents: More needed to address drop out issues

Published 10:00 pm Monday, May 25, 2009

A new bill to increase Alabama’s high school dropout age will help local school systems, but that alone won’t solve much, superintendents said.

“I think raising the dropout age from 16 to 17 is a step in the right direction,” said Pike County Schools Superintendent Mark Bazzell. “I don’t think it will hurt our situation in terms of creating more challenges for us.”

But at the same time, Bazzell and Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith said much more will be needed to address the issues.

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“Just increasing the age to 17 is not going to solve the issue,” Felton-Smith said. “The age is not the only factor that’s having a negative impact on students dropping out of school.”

Under the bill, signed by Gov. Bob Riley last week, students will have to be 17, rather than 16 years old, in order to drop out of high school. In addition, they will have to have an exit interview with a school official and a parent or guardian and sign a document stating they understand the implications of their decision.

Bazzell said at the heart of decreasing drop out rates is addressing issues that cause students to leave high school early.

“Kids drop out of school for reasons usually totally unrelated to school,” Bazzell said.

Bazzell said reasons ranging from teenage pregnancy to domestic violence to poverty are some of what he said may lead to a decision to drop out of school.

Bazzell said it is critical to address these issues in middle school because that’s when students usually begin to have these problems.

Felton-Smith agreed these issues have to be resolved with counseling and not just age limits.

“To really work with students at risk of dropping out of school, we’re going to have to counsel and work with families to help them realize the importance of their diplomas,” Felton-Smith said.

Local school systems don’t keep track of drop out rates alone, but graduation rates have improved for both in the last few years.

Bazzell said last year, 77-percent of students graduated, a number that has improved for both Goshen High and Pike County High Schools in the last years.

Felton-Smith said Charles Henderson High School had an 83-percent graduation rate, a number that has climbed from 76 percent two years ago.