Among all the points of contention in this year's races for seats on Columbia County School Board, one that has drawn general agreement among the candidates is that the county's dropout rate is "too high."
But what, exactly, does that mean?
Beyond wishing every kid who started high school finishes, it doesn't mean much at all. In the end, keeping a student in school is often entirely out of the hands of the public school system.
Yet because there is a somewhat romantic ideal of everyone getting at least a high-school education, county officials have embarked on a study to find out why 341 students dropped out this past year.
An initial study by Superintendent Tommy Price shows 187 of those dropouts opted for a GED. Another 22 were kicked out for discipline problems. The more troubling group is 95 who gradually quit coming to school. "Over time you just don't see them anymore," Price says. This segment needs special examination if the dropout rate is trimmed.
Whatever the reduction, a 100 percent completion rate isn't going to happen. Even so, trustees may have hit upon one good strategy: they're looking at ways the county's next high school could help keep at-risk students in school.
The idea is to create a career-oriented "magnet" school. Students who don't fit with a college-oriented focus, and who find vocational programs at their school lacking, could attend a tech-centered school possibly linked with a satellite campus of Augusta Technical College.
That's better than an academic magnet school, which would create a "brain drain" that drags down the rest of the schools in the county. A career-oriented magnet school instead would provide new encouragement to neglected students.
"Maybe we could help them see more clearly that if their plan doesn't include staying in school, then it's not a good plan," Price said. That, itself, sounds like a pretty good plan.
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