LAURINBURG — With two school districts in Catawba County raising their minimum dropout age from 16 to 18, school boards statewide will be watching the impact of that policy on the affected students.
With every state bordering North Carolina requiring students to remain in school until they graduate or until age 17 or 18, the Hickory and Newton-Conover school districts will be the first North Carolina school systems to raise the dropout age from 16. That policy will take effect in the 2014-2015 school year.
Though noting the success of the Scotland County school system’s Twilight Success Academy in assisting dropouts with a return to classes and work toward a diploma, as well as a virtual program being implemented at Shaw Academy so that students may work from home, school board chairman Charles Brown said that raising the dropout age across the board could be beneficial overall.
“In terms of my experiences with children in school, I tend to think that young people even at the age of 17 or 18 are still in a growing, maturing mode that means that they just aren’t ready or have the maturity to step out into the work world and be ready for the demands,” said Brown. “They need more time in a lot of cases.”
In the 2011-2012 school year, the most recent for which dropout data is available, 43 students dropped out of Shaw Academy, with 36 dropping out of Scotland High School, two dropping out of Scotland Early College High, and one dropping out of Carver Middle School. At 82 total dropouts, the dropout rate for that year was 2.79 percent.
In the Newton-Conover and Hickory school districts, where the dropout age increase will take effect, the dropout rates were slightly higher: 3.22 percent and 3.19 percent, respectively.
Brown anticipated that the Newton-Conover and Hickory district policies will be a topic of discussion for the Scotland County school board during upcoming meetings.
“We’ve got to look at the pros and cons of that, because it’s something to be considered,” he said.
Harold Livingston, Scotland County Schools dropout prevention coordinator, said that the state and other North Carolina school systems would note the effectiveness of the raised dropout age in Hickory and Newton-Conover before making decisions about more widespread implementation.
“This information is fresh to us and one of the things we have to do is when you make a decision to move in that direction you have to look at what you’re doing at the present time and how that is impacting you as far as being effective in preventing dropouts,” said Livingston.
He also noted the success of the school system’s Judicial Attendance Council in increasing attendance rates among students at all grade levels with “continuously and habitually poor attendance” who have not formally dropped out.
Sending a letter to parents after their child’s third, sixth, and 10th unexcused absence, the school system’s next step, in partnership with the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office, is to bring students and their parents in front of the council — with a sitting district court judge — rather than formally involving the court system right away.
“Many times kids ‘drop out’ of school well before they leave,” said Livingston. “We want to make sure that we impact these students early so that they know that it’s important to come to school and to be successful in school.”
The council is tasked with addressing on a case-by-case basis “health and financial dynamics” that may preclude school attendance. Among the 32 students who have come before the council since its formation in 2011, average attendance rates have increased from 76 percent to 86 percent.
“We’re working to make sure that we have all the people at the table to assist a parent and make sure that any barriers to keep their child from coming to school have been eliminated,” Livingston said.