Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Dropout crisis is statewide problem
From today's AJC -
A few weeks ago, the AJC’s front page story was “State’s high school graduation rate a crisis.” It reported that Georgia has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country.
In fact, Georgia is in the bottom five states. But the focus was solely on the Department of Education and schools. Are they really the only ones to blame? Are they the only entities that should be held accountable?
This is a statewide crisis — not an Atlanta crisis, not an urban crisis, not a poor crisis, not a North Georgia crisis, not an African-American crisis — a Georgia crisis.
Most of our Georgia students attend a school where graduating is not the norm. Most of the districts that we live in have low levels of graduation rates at our neighborhood high schools.
With over 20,000 Georgia dropouts annually, the graduation rate is a crisis in every community throughout Georgia. And every community needs to take responsibility for its schools and recognize that this is a community issue. We must all play a part in the solution.
Businesses, parents and extended family, faith-based organizations, community organizations and government must take ownership of their part in the solution to Georgia’s graduation crisis. This cannot fall solely on the shoulders of educators, administrators or the Georgia Department of Education.
Communities, as a whole, must make graduation rates a priority and mobilize to support and, in some instances, transform high schools. We need more mentoring programs and tutors, better after-school programs, smaller class sizes, individualized attention, specific programming for at-risk drop-outs, parent education and the list goes on. Dedicated partnerships between schools and their communities are needed to connect resources and services.
A number of organizations met at Communities In Schools last week to work on a “graduation summit” for Atlanta and Georgia. Because the many causes underlying dropping out of school are so complex, the group is seeking ways to link support for schools, families and students to all who are committed to raising graduation rates — from chambers of commerce, to United Way groups, to community developers, to after-school programs, to technical colleges, to work-force development activities. Undeniably, there should be a focus on high expectations and academic rigor.
But there must also be a focus on nonacademic barriers that potential dropouts and their families face. There has to be a holistic approach to increasing the number of Georgia high school graduates.
Through Communities In Schools’ Performance Learning Centers, many likely dropouts transform themselves into high school graduates through the use of individualized learning programs in a small, nontraditional setting.
In fact, this year over 1,000 students, who were at one time identified as future high school dropouts, graduated from our PLCs. So yes, achieving higher graduation rates can be done. Will it take a lot of hard work and collaboration from all facets of our communities? Absolutely.
The stakes are too high for us, as Georgians, to wait on the sidelines for changes to be made for us. We have to hold ourselves accountable — all of us do. The future of our state depends on it.
Chris Womack, an executive vice president at Southern Co., is board chair of Communities In Schools of Georgia. Neil Shorthouse is president of Communities In Schools of Georgia.