Schools report reflects record-low dropouts

Jan. 29, 2013 @ 04:58 AM

A smaller percentage of students dropped out of Lee County Schools in the last school year than ever before, according to a state report, which also noted an increase in the number and rate of reported crimes or other incidents in local schools.

Despite being the lowest ever, the county's dropout rate for 2011-12 of 3.63 percent was still higher than the state average of 3.01 percent, a record low in its own right. Lynn Smith, chairman of the Lee County Board of Education, said the decrease is mostly due to higher expectations of students year after year, but can also be attributed to a wider variety of options for high schoolers to pursue.

"As we expect more of children, they're going to meet those expectations, and our teachers and principals have done a really good job in that respect," he said. "... The other side of that is choice. I think Lee Early College has played a huge role in that, as it gives kid additional choices, and we have improved our career and technical side of the coin that's opened up opportunities as well."

He said that when students see their classes as relevant to their goals for life after high school — whether those goals include a four-year degree or a factory job — they are less likely to drop out. Superintendent Jeff Moss agreed.

"I think it's a testament to our teachers," Moss said. "I think they're engaging kids and they're ensuring our students are functioning and operating at grade level. More is being expected of them, but there’s also a support structure in place to keep them from falling through the cracks."

Locally, Lee County had the second-lowest dropout rate among its immediate neighbors. Harnett County had the highest at 4.13 percent, followed by Chatham County at 3.82 percent and Lee County at 3.63 percent. Moore County was the lowest, at 2.96 percent.

Harnett County's high schools also had one of the 10 highest per-capita rates of reported on-campus crime or other incidents in the state, with 123 in the four traditional high schools. In Lee County, the total number of acts reported in all schools went from 54 in 2010-11 to 74 in 2011-12, with most of that increase coming in the number of students found with drugs or other controlled substances.

Moss said that he doesn't see a spike in reports over a single year as indicative of widespread change, but no matter the numbers, teachers, student resource officers and other personnel are dedicated to students' well-being.

"We do our due diligence to ensure the welfare and safety of every student that crosses our doors," he said, "and sometimes students make wrong decisions about what to bring to school, but we deal with that."

Statewide, the most frequently reported acts were possession of a controlled substance, possession of a non-gun weapon and possession of alcohol. Lee County mirrored those numbers, with controlled substances (39) and non-gun weapons (23) accounting for most of its reported acts, followed distantly by possession of alcohol and assault on school personnel, of which there were four incidents each. The county also had two of the state's 73 bomb threats, with neither leading to any damage or injury.

Lee County High School had 14 students caught with drugs, two students caught with alcohol and one bomb threat.

Southern Lee High School had 12 students caught with drugs, two students caught with alcohol, one with a gun and three with other types of weapons.

Bragg Street Academy had nine students caught with drugs and one bomb threat. Lee Early College had no incidents of any type, and the assaults on personnel were from Greenwood Elementary School with three and Floyd L. Knight with one.

The amount of per-capita incidents in Lee County increased last year by more than 7 percent, from 5.65 acts per 1,000 students to 7.67 acts per 1,000 students. That raised it above the state average of 7.63 per 1,000 students and also signaled a trend in the opposite direction as the state as a whole, which had a decrease of 5 percent.

No Lee County students were expelled last year. Harnett and Moore counties each expelled one student, contributing to the statewide total of 30.

The full report can be found online at http://www.ncpublicschools.org in the section labeled "News."