HICKORY — Recent action on resolutions supporting raising the dropout age of students to 18 years has once again brought the debate about the topic to the attention of local school boards.
The Oct. 22 actions were reported by the Hickory Daily Record as well as being the subject of an Oct. 25 editorial in The Mount Airy News which first was published in the Hickory Daily Record. According to the record, the resolutions were passed by boards of education for Hickory and the Newton-Conover systems.
No official discussions on this subject have been held recently by either the Surry County Board of Education or the Mount Airy School district board. Proponents of the measure cite 16 being an appropriate age in the times of an economy dominated by unskilled manufacturing jobs. Today’s labor force requirements have trended towards students becoming life long learners able to adapt to every changing technology in the workplace.
Specific language of the resolution stipulated students would attend school until they graduate from an accredited high school or reach their 18th birthday.
Those favoring the measure also point out 18 as the age when a young person is considered an adult. According to conversations with Surry County School Superintendent Dr. Ashley Hinson and Mount Airy School Superintendent Dr. Gregory Little, local school systems’ high graduation rates have lessened attention to the issue.
“We are doing really well in keeping our students engaged,” said Little. “We are pleased with the talent and efforts of our staff and community for our students that allows us those kind of results.” Little said Mount Airy Schools have the second highest graduation rate in the state with 91.4 percent of its students graduating.
He also said it was his opinion that students drop out before they turn 16. It just happens 16 is set as the date they must wait on so they can leave school.
“I believe they begin to drop out when they lose hope,” added Little. “I think the key is we are suppliers of hope in our schools. That is one of the advantages of being a small school system. Students don’t fall between the cracks.”
Little also said the Mount Airy School system has been fortunate to have many good role models among its staff, principals and teachers and that also helps support the students.
“Kids are motivated and looked after,” continued Little. “The principals and staff really pay attention to their students because they know them better. Also, our students stay together all the time they are in the system and forge strong relationships. Because we do so well, this will not have great impact on us even if the measure is enacted.”
Little said that he felt the answer to the problem was not changing the age but being sure students are focused early on and kept on pace and on track to be successful learners. Dropout rates will not be updated until the end of this school year. Mount Airy rate for the 2010-2011 year was 2.21 percent and 2.33 percent for the 2009-2010 school year.
Surry County has a graduation rate of 83 percent for ninth-graders that entered the high school in the 2008-2009 school year and graduated in 2011-2012. A total of 87 percent of graduates from East Surry, North Surry and Surry Central continued their education in college.
The Surry Early College High School of Design graduated 58 in the class of 2012 with a 100 percent graduation rate. By comparison, the state graduation rate for a similar period was 80.3 percent.
Hinson pointed out that school boards can pass similar resolutions but General Assembly action would be required before it could be enacted as law.
“This issue has been bantered around for years but nothing recently has been discussed,” commented Hinson. “I feel it is highly debatable. A lot are concerned about the benefits of having the children in the system for two more years. Frankly, I don’t know that others would say they’ve solved this.”
Hinson said often these issues can surface with the platforms of political parties.
“We probably all have opinions but often it’s very important to realize the need to have data to back them up,” added Hinson. “It is my impression that no system has done a study this in depth. Most of the time an issue involving educational problem solving often becomes only the educational world’s responsibility to solve. We all, schools, community and parents, have the responsibility to find the solution to students dropping out. It’s everybody’s responsibility.”
Reach David Broyles at email@example.com or 719-1952.