By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
Following the recent passage of Senate Bill 97, the Kentucky Board of Education backed a resolution urging districts to adopt a policy to raise the compulsory school attendance age from 16 to 18 effective in the 2015-16 school year.
According to a provision of the law, once 55 percent of districts have adopted the policy, the remaining districts will have to sign on within four years.
The Madison County School board will vote on the proposal at next Thursday’s board meeting, but there has already been discussion in the district about adopting the new policy.
“I’d like to ask our board to consider being one of the first school districts in the state to say that we want to adopt an 18-year compulsory (attendance age for dropouts). That’s my personal stance on the issue,” said board chair Mona Isaacs at the March 21 meeting.
Superintendent Tommy Floyd said keeping students in school those extra two years gives them a better opportunity to have a successful future.
Districts also have been given a monetary incentive for early adoption of the policy.
Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday announced a program to award $10,000 planning grants to the first 57 districts to approve the policy prior to the 2015-16 school year.
The money can be used to develop a required plan for implementation that would include integration of career and technical education, engagement of the community and the use of community resources, according to a Kentucky Department of Education release.
Floyd said those who balk at the measure have concerns about forcing students to remain in school.
And, many are uneasy about the cost of alternative programs for those students, he said.
“However, this new law will simply challenge us to be creative in providing the right opportunities for each of those students,” Floyd added.
In 2011-12, the district had only six dropouts, down from 51 the year before. Several initiatives to combat the number of dropouts are already in place.
A couple of years ago, the county’s two high school principals David Gillum (Madison Southern) and Elmer Thomas (Madison Central) began brainstorming on ways to keep students in school.
The key to being successful is to give students a lot of options and to “create opportunities for the students to leave MCHS as graduates with the skills necessary to be successful in their next step in life,” Thomas said. “I think raising the dropout age to 18 will be a strong support to and help further the goal that we have been working toward of every student graduating high school with those skills in hand.”
Some of the initiatives include Focus to Finish, an online credit recovery program that allows students to take online courses to make up lost credits.
There also is a work-readiness component that develops students’ basic skills by placing them in co-op positions within the community.
The Secondary GED Academy is a program facilitated by the district that enables students to obtain a GED after they dropped out.
“A lot of times students will drop out and never get their GED,” said Thomas, so guiding students to this option achieves better results.
According to Secondary GED director Jamie Ford, there were 11 students who completed the program last year.
“The biggest weapon against dropouts is creating a culture where dropping out is unacceptable,” Gilliam said. “We have seen a dramatic reduction in dropouts in the last two years because we are taking that stance and are providing ‘life lines’ to those that have fallen behind.”