Kirsten Mustain

Grove Sun

Although the school district has faced budget constraints and lay-offs in the past couple of months, Grove High School saw radical improvements in its dropout rate this year.

During the 2007-2008 school year, according to the Education Oversight Board Office of Accountability, Grove’s dropout rate was 29.6 percent in comparison to the state dropout rate of 13.2 percent.

Countywide, Grove’s dropout rate was the highest – coming in ahead of Jay at 21.3 percent, Colcord at 13.5 percent, Oaks Mission at 11.1 percent and Kansas at 9.1 percent.

However, during the 2008 – 2009 school year, that number had been cut by more than 50 percent, coming directly in line with the state average of 13.2 percent.

GHS Principal Renee Dozier said the improvement in the dropout rate is due to more than one factor.

“If we hear of something that’s working in other schools, we see if we can implement it here,” she said.

It’s a joint effort between school officials, teachers, parents, students and community members.

“We have a good team,” Dozier said. “(Assistant Principal) Mr. Sturgeon and our counselors began the effort, and now a lot of the teachers are on board. The first thing we try to do is identify kids who are at risk of dropping out early on so they are not too far gone when we step in.”

She said the teachers have become much more receptive to finding those students.

Once they have been identified, alternatives are examined.

“The traditional classroom just isn’t the answer for everybody,” Dozier said. “Kids today have so many burdens. We try to lighten those burdens.”

Students who have failed classes now have the option of enrolling in the Evening Credit Recovery Program, which enables them to graduate without having to spend extra years in school.

“If they are already behind, this helps them to get caught up,” Dozier explained. “If they are already considering dropping out, it’s unlikely that they will stay in school for an extra year.”

The other program that helps students who are having trouble is the Alternative Education Program.

“Mrs. Iverson does a great job with this program,” Dozier said. “At the Alternative School they don’t focus on the fluff – they just do what they need to do to graduate.”

Dozier has a passion for keeping students in school that began during her first years of teaching.

“I had just recently started teaching when a student I had been working with who was going to be the first in his family to graduate came to me with papers to sign to allow him to drop out,” she recalled. “I refused to sign them.”

The boy dropped out anyway, but Dozier never gave up. When she had a chance meeting with his parents a year later and discovered he was having trouble passing his GED test, she contacted him and helped him enroll in the Alternative School.

“He graduated,” Dozier said. “When a student overcomes so many obstacles to graduate, that’s the most rewarding thing for me – knowing how much of an impact that has on the rest of his life.”

Dozier’s goal is to drive the dropout rate even lower in the coming years.

“I’m very thrilled at the progress we’ve made,” she said. “I hope it continues to go down. It would be phenomenal to have 100 percent of the students who enter this school walk out with a diploma.”