State education officials are using the slogan “Graduation Matters in Missouri” to call attention to the importance of finishing high school at a time when the state's dropout rate has been creeping upward.

State education officials are using the slogan “Graduation Matters in Missouri” to call attention to the importance of finishing high school at a time when the state's dropout rate has been creeping upward.

After declining for close to a decade, Missouri's dropout rate reached a low of 3.3 percent in 2003. But over the next five years, the rate began ticking back up, reaching 3.7 in 2007-2008.

The 2008-2009 figure, as reported in a recent state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education release, stands at 4.2 percent, which means 12,000 Missouri students left school last year, or about 70 per day statewide.

At Maryville High School, the dropout rate is considerably lower and the graduation rate considerably higher than the state average, Principal Jason Eggers said Tuesday. With a local dropout rate of 2.8 percent and a graduation rate of 90.8 percent – compared to the state average of 85.2 – Maryville R-II would appear to be beating the odds.

However, Eggers said, when it comes to keeping kids in school, good is not good enough.
“It's always an issue for us. Ideally you don't want any dropouts, and we try to concentrate on that,” he said. “While our dropout rate is below the state average, and our graduation rate is above it – and while we want to celebrate that – we also want to keep trying to make those numbers better.”

One approach in Maryville has been to encourage at-risk teens to enroll in the district's in-school GED program, which gives students who may be on the verge of dropping out the opportunity to attend  classes while preparing for their high school equivalency examination and working at least 15 hours a week.

In-school GED students receive instruction at either the high school or the district's alternative school, known as the Area Cooperative for Educational Support, or ACES. Those who decide not to go to class but want to stay in the program and continue preparing for their GED must work 30 hours a week, Eggers said, adding that early intervention is another key strategy in convincing struggling students to continue working toward a diploma.

“We try to focus on those students who may be in trouble and help them find reasons to want to stay in school,” he said. “Finding a curriculum that is meaningful for them is very important, and so is focusing on attendance.”

New this fall at Maryville High School is a program called Check and Connect, which pairs students with individual teachers who act as mentors and provide counseling about grades, attendance and personal issues that may be affecting classroom performance.

Eggers said communication with parents is an important jump in to lend a hand. That excitement is contagious and invaluable.”

part of the Check and Connect process, as is steering students toward co-curricular activities that may help keep them on track for graduation.

“There are A lot of issues that can affect dropouts -- families, problems at school, personal issues,” Eggers said.

“We try to recognize those issues, whether or not we actually have any control over them, and then deal with those students individually and try to find what is best for them.”

On the state level, the Missouri House of Representatives has created a dropout prevention task force, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is examining policies and incentives and working with agencies such as the Division of Youth Services, the Department of Health and the Department of Mental Health.

"The state has a major interest in finding solutions to the dropout problem and helping improve student achievement across the board  so that all students can meet rising academic expectations," said Chris Nicastro, Missouri's commissioner of education.

“Cutting the dropout rate provides tangible rewards for everybody. But this is a problem that schools, parents and community leaders must tackle together.”

More information about Missouri's dropout prevention campaign is available on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's Web site at www.dese.mo.gov/dropoutprevention.

Maryville Daily Forum