Box 113, Williamsport, PA 17701 Phone: 570-323-2050    Fax: 570-323-2051

Dropouts: Perception and Reality

Building Community Consensus

AIthough the dropout rate for Council Bluffs Community Schools is and has been consistently below state and national averages, the issue of dropouts has remained a concern for the district and the community. Even though the district had a number of programs aimed at prevention as well as seeking and returning dropouts, these programs were not necessarily known by the
community at large. In fact, different elements of the community had widely divergent views on dropout issues. Teachers saw it as related to chronic discipline problems. The police were convinced there was a direct relationship to attendance and daytime crime. Some parents were sure one high school had a higher dropout rate than another high school.

The district reviewed the different perceptions and then, with those varying perceptions in mind, undertook a detailed statistical analysis and conducted structured interviews with staff, students, parents and agency representatives. The results of the interviews, analysis and pertinent data collection were reported to community representatives at an At-Risk Youth Summit jointly sponsored by the district and community agencies.

Many people were surprised to find that perceptions and reality were widely divergent. Dropouts
were below the district average for discipline referrals. They were above the district average for days absent, but so were other students who did not dropout. There was no significant difference between various high schools. After studying police statistics, no relationship between dropouts and daytime crime could be established. What emerged was a clear pattern: As students fell further and further behind their peers in course credits due to academic failure, students would reach a personal threshold where they felt it was pointless to continue working toward a diploma.

What also emerged from the analysis was a profile of a high school dropout and a community consensus to work with students and parents across agencies to achieve a district and community goal of no dropouts. This assimilation of accurate information resulted in a significant change in focus regarding high school dropouts and a renewed shared commitment. Community members no longer speak of "the school district’s dropout problem." They now speak of "our problem with at-risk kids."

The At-Risk Summit of more than 80 people from over 40 public and private agencies will continue to meet to plan specific communitywide interventions. A leadership task force of eight different agencies will provide guidance to this group.Not only is the community ready to support the school district in addressing dropout prevention, but the community is also ready to address with one voice the issues of poverty, domestic abuse, substance abuse and the impact of poverty, housing mobility and other factors as they impact education from prekindergarten through 12th grade.

As Council Bluffs Community Schools has illustrated, listening to the public and sharing information can lead to effective collaboration on behalf of at-risk students.