By Marcella Robertson
Five years ago, 250 students dropped out of the Richmond Public Schools. They represented almost 2.5 percent of the city’s middle-school and high school students — a dropout rate well above the state average.
The most recent data released by the Virginia Department of Education shows a remarkable improvement: The number of dropouts in Richmond has been cut almost in half — there were 132 for the 2009-10 school year, and the city’s dropout rate plunged to 1.45 percent — well below the statewide rate.
During this time frame, the number of dropouts in Virginia was reduced by more than a fifth: from 10,643 student dropouts in 2005-2006 to 8,395 in 2009-2010.
For Richmond City Schools, decreasing dropout rates has become a high priority.
“We know how getting that degree gives our children more opportunities for career or college readiness, higher incomes, and lifelong success,” said Richmond School Board Chair Kim Bridges.
The School Board, which oversees the city’s public school system, has been closely involved in the efforts to decrease dropout number and increase graduation rates.
“The graduation rate number has risen through a comprehensive approach and some sustained efforts on the part of many dedicated staff and Richmond Public Schools supporters,” Bridges said.
A dropout prevention program, implemented last year, finds dropouts and attempts to quickly get them back into the school system through a central registration process.
The school division’s Disciplinary Committee has also taken an approach to increase retention by finding alternative solutions to expulsions to keep children in school.
“We’ve added three Performance Learning Centers in partnership with the nonprofit Communities in Schools to offer those at risk of dropping out to get a chance to get credits through a self-paced online curriculum,” Bridges said.
Communities in Schools places trained coordinators inside public schools to offer services such as mentoring, tutoring, career development, health care, and service learning. These coordinators target the students who are in danger of dropping out.
According to the CIS, dropouts are four times more likely to be unemployed and two times more likely to be arrested. This serves as a motivator for the program to stop the “economic disaster” that dropping out of school brings to the young people.
After-school programs have also played a role in reducing dropout.
“The neighborhood empowerment zone at George Wythe partners students with staff from our partners at The Roc to find positive ways to resolve the students’ issues, thus making the school safer and the kids more likely to stay in school,” Bridges said.
The Richmond City School Board tracks the schools’ progress through a system called the Balanced Scorecard. It is a statistical report card on the students as well as the schools in the district.
The school system also is developing dropout prevention programs for the city’s middle schools. They’re getting more attention because many students at risk of dropout out actually begin disengaging during the middle school years, educators say.
“Moving forward, we’re adding more areas of emphasis that should help continue to drive those increases, especially at the three high schools that are below the state average,” Bridges said.
Overall, the decrease in student dropouts can be credited to a team effort.
“The community support has been critical, as many of these endeavors pare partnerships with nonprofits, businesses or the faith based community, Bridges said. “It’s definitely a community effort.”
Here is the data used in this report.