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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Alternative ed program would improve graduation rate
School officials working on plan to help ‘at-risk’ students

Monday, March 18, 2013


Franklin County High School's B rating from the Virginia Department of Education (DOE) demonstrates the need for an alternative education center for "at-risk" students, according to school officials.

According to the current DOE grading system, 15 county schools received an A rating, said Dr. Mark Church, school superintendent. "Franklin County High School received a B rating, due to the declining graduation rate in the county."

An alternative education plan is needed to raise the graduation rate, Church said.

Franklin County has an 85.4 percent on-time graduation rate as of 2012, compared to the state's average on-time graduation rate of 88 percent.

The on-time graduation rates for nearby school systems include Salem, 93.7 percent; Roanoke County, 91.7 percent; Roanoke City, 76.6 percent; Bedford County, 89.1 percent; Henry County, 86.5 percent; and Floyd County, 92.2 percent.

"The high school dropout rate is one measure of the success of our elementary and secondary educational systems," said Sue Rogers, assistant superintendent of Franklin County schools. "Moreover, because high school dropouts are at higher risk of unemployment and other social ills, dropout rates are a leading indicator of potential future problems."

School board members discussed the need for identifying kids who are having trouble and are unable to take the "traditional path" to education at its board meeting last week.

"We currently do not have an alternative education program (for students at risk of dropping out)," Rogers said. "The high school would like to design an alternative program that offers alternative hours for students, provides life and job coaching, and personalized educational plans."

"It would not be a watered down curriculum, as students would still participate in state testing," she added. "We are currently surveying and interviewing students who have dropped out of school to get their input on what worked for them and what didn't."

The school board has requested $105,716 in additional funds from the county for the 2013-14 school year to design an alternative education center and to hire a guidance counselor (or social worker) for the center.

"We need special teachers and counselors to help with an alternative education program so these kids can get their high school diploma," said Church.

In a 2006 report, Civic Enterprises studied the national trend in falling graduation rates and higher dropout rates. They cited lack of motivation, financial troubles, poor preparation and lack of success as common reasons some students did not complete their studies.

Parental education level is also strongly correlated with a student's own academic achievement, according to the study.

One of the most significant factors influencing high school dropout rates is family income. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students from low-income families are six times more likely to drop out of high school than students from high-income families.

Fifty-one percent of students in Franklin County schools currently qualify for free or reduced-price meals, meaning they live at or below the federal poverty level.

For example, a Franklin County student living in a household of four would qualify for free meals at school if the family income is $29,965 a year or less. If that same family's income was between $29,965.01 and $42,643, the student would qualify for reduced-price meals.

Out of the 13 county elementary schools, eight schools have over 50 percent of their students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Sontag Elementary currently has the highest percentage of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches (74.4 percent) with Snow Creek close behind at 72.3 percent.

According to the DOE, 88.3 percent of black students in Franklin County High School graduated in 2012, while 86.6 percent of white students graduated. And 58.6 percent of Hispanic students graduated. Students with disabilities and economic disadvantages had an even lower graduation rate, 75.2 and 82.2 percent, respectively.

In May 2011, the national unemployment rate for those without a high school diploma was 5.3 percentage points higher than those who had graduated from high school, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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