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Perdue credits grad coaches for lower dropout rates

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday that the state's number of high school dropouts fell by more than 2,200 students for a second straight year.

In the 2007-08 school year, 2,241 fewer students dropped out than in 2006-07, nearly an 11 percent decrease.

The previous year, the number of dropouts was 2,272 lower than in 2005-06, a decrease of roughly 10 percent. In the last two school years, then, 4,513 fewer Georgia students have dropped out of school, about a 20 percent improvement in that time period.

Speaking during the National Dropout Prevention Conference, Perdue lauded the state's graduation coaches as being instrumental in helping decrease the number of dropouts in Georgia's high schools.

"Our graduation coaches are doing outstanding work serving at-risk students, developing individual graduation plans and following through to encourage potential dropouts to stay in school," Perdue said. "Seeing more students graduate and fewer drop out, strengthens Georgia's ability to provide an educated workforce and compete in the global markets."

Graduation coaches are a part of Perdue's initiative to improve dropout and graduation rates. The state-mandated positions, funded in the state's fiscal year 2007 (FY07) budget were created in 2006 for high schools, and in 2007 for middle schools.

Graduation coaches are responsible for identifying and working with at-risk students. They help students get back on track to graduate, with the support of various community members and organizations.

The effects of the initiative, some say, is revealed in the state's high school dropout statistics. Statewide, dropouts have decreased over the past four years. During the 2004-05 school year, 24,280 students dropped out. There were 23,372 dropouts during the 2005-06 school year; 21,100 in 2006-07; and 18,859 dropouts in 2007-08.

"That lets us know that the kids are working hard, especially in Clayton County," said Alieka Anderson, chairwoman of the Clayton County Board of Education. "We, as parents and as community leaders - we have to give our children praise."

According to the Governor's Office, the dropout rate has declined despite the state's growth of roughly 18,000 new high school students in the last two years. Another plus: The state's high school graduation rate has risen to 75 percent, from 63 percent in the 2002-03 school year.

"Our children are doing what they need to in order to graduate, and the graduation coaches are definitely helping to make sure that our children are looking at the right fields to get into," added Anderson, also a first-grade teacher. "They help keep our kids focused."

The Governor's Office reported that graduation coaches have worked with 33,834 students with poor attendance and 14,082 students who were not on track to graduate. Statewide, there are 398 coaches working in high schools and 242 working in middle schools.

"I think you have to give credit to our teachers," said Pam Nutt, vice chairman of the Henry County Board of Education. I think it's our teachers and administrators really stressing the need to stay in school. I think the kids are seeing that it does pay to stay in school.

"It has really become a student-oriented community," Nutt added. "I think kids today are aspiring to achieve. I think our kids want to be more - at least, I hope so - and that's exciting."

State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox also credited the work of Georgia's graduation coaches, counselors, teachers, students and parents.

"Reducing Georgia's dropout rate and increasing the graduation rate is our top priority, and it's clear we are making great progress," Cox said. "There is work left to be done, but I know with this type of collaboration, we will get the job done."