Mixed results for local districts in state discipline report

Jan. 11, 2013 @ 06:50 PM

Durham Public Schools saw its dropout rate decline by 2.4 percent in 2011-12 compared to the previous year, with 362 leaving high school.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools cut its dropout rate by 13.6 percent. Granville County managed to bring dropout numbers down by 41.3 percent.

However, the rate of students dropping out climbed slightly in Orange, Person and Chatham counties.

“Really, given the economy and given the need for an education, it is more critical than ever that we focus on this,” said Michael Gilbert, spokesman for Orange County Schools. “As a district, we’re dedicated to making sure our kids get the best education possible. The future depends on them completing high school.”

These dropout numbers were part of a consolidated report on school crime and violence, suspensions and expulsions and dropout rates released Thursday by the state Department of Public Instruction. The report, addressed to the General Assembly’s joint legislative education oversight committee, provides general findings and district-by-district details.

Throughout North Carolina, the report states, school crime didn’t increase much and most acts were committed by ninth-grade boys. Among ethnic groups in high school, African-Americans had the highest crime rate, followed by American Indian and multiracial students.

Durham, with 185 reported acts in a population of 9,495 high school students, had a rate of 19.48 crimes per 1,000 students. That’s the highest in this region, but not even on the radar for the highest rates in the state.

According to the report, the highest school crime rates were in Pitt, Davidson, Buncombe, Madison, Jackson, Robeson, Harnett, Gates, Avery and Currituck counties.

Lowest in the state? Clay County and Clinton City districts reported zero acts.

The report states that the most frequently reported school crimes included drug possession, non-firearm and non-explosive weapons possession and alcohol possession.

Statewide, short-term and long-term suspensions continued to decline.

In the report, CHCCS was among seven districts in North Carolina recognized for “superior performance in achieving low rates,” specifically in short-term suspensions and dropouts.

Jeff Riley, coordinator of student services and safe schools for CHCCS, said the district has reason to be proud of what it has accomplished. Still, there’s work to be done.

“We’ve still got things to address,” he said. “One dropout is too many. We need to get those numbers lower. We had 40 dropouts this year. To me, that sounds like a lot of kids, but I’m extremely proud we’ve brought it down from last year.”

He credits good student-to-counselor ratios, social workers in every school, strong relationships between school resource officers and their communities and the district’s efforts to intervene to reduce or prevent dropouts.

In Orange County, Gilbert said the district is counting on its new student discipline administrator, Alex Herring, to help turn things around.

“This year, our newly hired student discipline officer is working very closely with administrators in high schools and social workers to identify at-risk students and to offer support and prevention strategies to keep them enrolled in school,” Gilbert said. “We’re also looking for students that have dropped out, trying to get them re-enrolled through home visits and phone calls.”

Debbie Pitman, area superintendent for student services in DPS, said that Durham school leaders are heavily focused on trying to retain students in danger of dropping out, as well as experimenting with new ideas to bring back those once thought lost.

“We’ve put some pretty intense effort on reducing our dropouts, most importantly because we are keenly aware of the implications for the individual student, their future and for our community,” Pitman said.

Working with Duke University, she said, DPS has developed an “early warning” system that lets officials monitor students with reports every nine weeks. They watch for risk factors, such as attendance, grades and behavior patterns, searching for evidence that students might be disengaging.

This year, Durham also introduced the new Magic Johnson Bridgescape program, which pulled past dropouts back to a diploma-earning academy.

“Many have been extremely successful,” Pitman said. “Some have struggled, but we continue to invest in those students.”

The first Bridgescape students are expected to receive their diplomas at a mid-year graduation ceremony later this month, she said.

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On the Web: Full consolidated state report - tinyurl.com/bhprdly