JDHS principal pitches strategy to cut dropout rate

Goal is 90 percent graduation rate

Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Juneau-Douglas High School principal Bernie Sorenson wants to increase the graduation rate to 90 percent, she said after the Juneau School Board meeting on Tuesday night.

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That's a far cry from the existing rate of 65.8 percent, which is up from 63 percent the previous year, according to School Board data.

But the school is making progress in reaching students who want to drop out, Sorenson said. The process will take about four more years to reach fruition.

In a presentation made to the Juneau School Board, Sorenson and several counselors talked about their efforts to engage freshmen before they become dropout risks.

The school is tweaking the program as it works to educate students.

"It's like building an airplane and flying it at the same time," Sorenson said.

Most students who drop out do so at the end of their freshman year or the beginning of their sophomore year, she said.

Freshmen who can be convinced to stay in school stand a 63 percent chance of graduating within four years, JDHS data shows. If sophomores can be convinced to stay in school, they have a 69 percent chance of graduating on time. When students reach their senior year, the chance of graduating on time jumps to 90 percent.

"If we can keep them in as freshmen and sophomores, we can have 90 percent," she said.

Sorenson expressed interest in other programs, such as a night high school.

Counselor Frank Coenraad noted a change in atmosphere at JDHS.

"The energy here is just phenomenal," Coenraad said.

The attempt to reach out to at-risk freshmen at JDHS is known as Freshman First. The program is designed to smooth the transition from middle to high school and identify at-risk first-year students.

There are many ways to identify at-risk students, Sorenson said, but generally speaking, a freshman who has two or more F's is likely to drop out. So are students who are male, come from poor families and are of Native descent, she said.

As part of Freshman First, the staff at JDHS has instituted several programs including freshman entrance interviews; intervention meetings between educators, parents and students; mandatory study halls, and ways to recover credits lost to failing grades - among others.

The most important program in retaining students, Sorenson said, has been the intervention meetings.

"It lets them (students) know we appreciate them," she said.

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