Rupert Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Steps are small but improved

Looking for positives in education is not always easy in Mississippi. Our education system is stereotypically always thought to be on the short end.

However numbers provided to the South Panola School Board of Trustees during their monthly meeting last week show some interesting if not positive statistics that patrons of the district should know.

 Late last month I was among a handful of local administrators and laypersons who attended a dropout prevention program in Jackson with about 1,200 others from across the state. Alma Powell, wife of Colin Powell, and chairman of America’s Promise Alliance was there to promote the beginning of “Destination Graduation,” a nationwide program to fight high school dropout rates.

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We learned that Mississippi’s dropout rate is currently over 36 percent, more than 13,000 dropouts every year.

But I also learned that South Panola is and has been doing something about this, especially since 2004. Almost all remedies recommended are already in place at South Panola and the most recent figures available say that something is working.

Yes, South Panola’s graduation rate in the school year ending 2005 was 66.2 percent. But in the year ending 2006 it was 74.4 percent.

But the big news is South Panola’s completion rate went from 76.2 percent to 86.2 percent.

What is that?

That is those that completed high school with a general or occupation diploma, GED, or certificate of special need.

That means that in addition to the 25.6 percent who did not graduate, another 12 percent — almost half — took an alternative such as GED to complete their work and possibly move into the work force or on to another level of learning.

Compare that 86.2 percent completion rate to nearby Lafayette County at 83.4 percent, Tate County at 72.3 percent, Water Valley at 71.4 percent, and North Panola at 64.7 percent.

When we are reminded that in some districts students who drop out and do not complete a course of alternative study are not tested in the areas that make up a school’s ranking, one can assume that the playing field is not level if the entire SP district is testing 85 percent and other districts are testing only the top 70 to 75 percent of students in their district.

There’s certainly room for improvement, but these figures show that the SP district is attempting to reach out to all students and the increases show success in some areas.

While others can learn from our programs, we need not be content and should continue to strive towards every child receiving not only a diploma, but a quality education. This is a step towards getting there.