Henrico’s dropout rates fall

Henrico County's high school dropout rate declined from 8.3 percent in 2011 to 5.8 percent in 2012, according to statistics compiled by the school system.

The number of students classified as dropouts decreased from 335 among the students who began high school with the Class of 2011 to 231 among those who began with the Class of 2012.

The dropout rate reduction is attributable in large part to more students graduating, thanks to the increased efforts of school counselors and the creation of new specialized programs for students at risk of dropping out, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Eric Jones told the School Board Jan. 8.

"Some of our dropout prevention efforts have really worked," he said.

The school system currently offers four program centers for students who want or need alternative approaches to education.

Through the e2020 program, the system also makes online courses available to students who may have failed to graduate otherwise. Jones cited the examples of several students who had dropped out just a few credits shy of graduating but completed the online courses and earned their degrees.

School systems in Virginia are required to report as dropouts any students who begin high school as freshmen but fail to graduate with a recognized degree (from their original schools or any other schools) within four school years.

In recent years, school counselors and other officials have placed an increased emphasis on tracking students who moved out of the state or county to determine whether they enrolled and graduated in new schools elsewhere. Those who did not – or for whom no information can be found – must be reported as dropouts.

Such efforts can be particularly difficult in the case of foreign students who move out of the country, Jones said, because locating them and determining whether they have in fact enrolled in school is challenging.

Last year, Henrico appealed to the Virginia Department of Education for the right to remove from its dropout totals students who moved out the country, as long as they could verify such moves.

"But so far we haven't made any headway," Jones said.

That issue could account in part for the fact that the percentage of students listed as dropouts within the Hispanic population rose from 9.6 percent in 2011 to nearly 15 percent last year, while the percentage of dropouts among students with limited English proficiency rose from 5.7 percent to 9.5 percent in the same period, Tuckahoe District board member Diana Winston theorized. (By comparison, the number of black students listed as dropouts dipped by half a percentage point, while the number of white students listed as dropouts fell 1.5 percent.)

Winston cited examples of several immigrant students at Tucker High School who were a month away from graduating but moved back to their native countries when work here for their parents dried up.

"We have not been able to track them," she said.

Overall, the dropout rates at Tucker (down 5.3 percent from the previous year), Henrico High (down 4 percent) and Varina High (down nearly 5 percent) showed marked improvements, Jones said. He credited the staff at Henrico in particular for working hard to pull the school back from the brink of declining graduation totals that were threatening its accreditation status.

The newest totals reflected Henrico's lowest number of dropouts during the past four years. The system reported 315 dropouts in 2009, 241 in 2010 and 335 in 2011.
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