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Hickory-area schools extend partnership to increase dropout age

In 2013, Newton-Conover City Schools (NCCS) and Hickory Public Schools (HPS) worked together to propose a resolution to the North Carolina State Board of Education for a pilot program meant to raise the dropout age from 16 to 18 in both their districts.

The State Board approved the resolution and the two school systems became the first in North Carolina to work with higher dropout ages.

Just a couple of weeks ago, NCCS Superintendent Dr. David Stegall found out that the North Carolina State Senate approved an extension of the pilot and added another county to it, Rutherford.

Stegall told the NCCS School Board during their meeting Monday they just need to sign-off on the new resolution.

“They just want to make sure the board is still in support of it,” Stegall said. “It’s through 2021, so they gave us an extension, which we requested…we wanted to make it permanent. They originally said three years, so this is a compromise.”

According to the Department of Labor, 17 states and the District of Columbia have already raised the minimum age at which a student is legally allowed to leave compulsory education.

In accordance with G.S. 115C-378, every parent, guardian, or custodian in North Carolina having charge or control of a student between the ages of 7 and 16 years shall cause the student to attend school continuously for a period equal to the time which the public school to which the student is assigned is in session.

“The way (the new resolution) was written in the senate law, it actually puts Hickory and Newton-Conover as one,” Stegall said. “Rutherford is by themselves and Hickory, Newton-Conover are together so our resolution has to be together, and we worked with Hickory Public to use the same wording as last time.”

Both school boards will have to approve the new resolution, sign it and then send it back to the state senate.

As part of the partnership, HPS and NCCS worked to develop procedures and processes to assist the school counselors and social workers as they monitor student attendance and contact families regarding attendance issues and navigate the legal system, Hickory Public Schools Director Angela Simmons said in an email.

The school systems used various intervention methods to help draw down dropout numbers including: home visits, virtual/online options, referrals to local mental health.

They also created their own initiatives. Hickory Public Schools had an after-hours academy, school-level group sessions, and a Hickory Career Arts Magnet Graduation Coach.

Newton-Conover took advantage of its N-CHS Pride Card program, career/job placement exploration, and celebrated meals for improvement in attendance, behavior, and academic performance.

“We are tracking student information and keeping data to show what is working with students and ways to keep students more engaged in school,” Simmons said. “One of the purposes of the program was to increase the graduation rate while decreasing the number of students dropping out of school each year.”

“We have been very creative in ways to assist student recover credit lost due to attendance and in ways to help them plan for their future. Judges in School program was also revisited for both districts and has helped many families understand the importance of staying in and graduating from school.”

According to an Alliance for Excellent Education (2010) report, 15.4 percent of high school dropouts were unemployed, compared to just 10 percent of high school graduates.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Hickory Daily Record on August 21, 2016. It is reprinted with permission.

John Bailey

John Bailey is a reporter for the Hickory Daily Record.