Fewer S. Ariz. students drop out
While the numbers decline overall, minorities quit at double
the rate of whites - a situation schools chief Jaime Molera
calls a 'crisis.'
BLAKE MORLOCK and DINA L. DOOLEN
Oct. 2, 2002
Alternative schools' higher dropout rates expected
Student dropout rates across southern Arizona are falling, but minority
students are leaving school at twice the rate of white students.
Across Arizona, minority dropout rates reflect a "crisis," said State
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera.
"They (dropout rates) continue to remain at a level that is unacceptable," he
said. "I think we need to commit ourselves to cut those numbers in half over the
next 10 years."
In Tucson, figures for Sunnyside Unified School District reflect a trend
toward a lower dropout rate for all students, but a higher rate for minorities.
In the 2001-02 school year, 1 in 10 students quit Sunnyside. In 1995, 1 in
5 students left the district without a diploma.
"We've really been attacking it," said Sunnyside Assistant Superintendent
Teachers are now responsible for keeping track of kids and following up
when students don't show up to school for extended periods.
The school also offers alternative education opportunities for kids who don't
do well in large schools.
But Sunnyside, which is 88 percent Hispanic, still has a higher rate of
dropouts - 10 percent - than the statewide rate of 7 percent.
One reason, Storm said, is that most of the district's minority students come
from low-income families.
"A lot of it is based in poverty," he said. "We have a lot of students who
leave school to help support their families."
Statewide, the dropout rate among American Indian students is 16.1
percent - higher than any other minority group in Arizona.
No single reason can explain why so many American Indians quit school,
said Lorraine St. Germain, assistant superintendent for Indian
Oasis-Boboquivari Unified School District of the Tohono O'odham Nation.
The district had a 24.8 percent dropout rate last year, according to the state
Department of Education.
"Some of it is the community and some of it is the district," St. Germain said
of the dropout rate. "There's a lot of reasons."
But she said the district has been reaching out to the community to form a
truancy committee to keep kids in school.
Elsewhere across Pima County, other districts are seeing solid results from
programs begun in the 1990s to help kids stay in school.
Amphitheater Public Schools' dropout rate fell from 10.5 percent in 1995
to 3.6 percent last year - a figure Molera said shows real progress.
More student-teacher contact and a concerted effort to keep kids in school
have helped, said Gail Bornfield, Amphi's executive director for student
The emphasis on keeping kids in school grew because the economic reality
has changed, Bornfield said.
Dropping out "puts them into a position now that prevents them from having
any employment mobility," Bornfield said.
Marana High School principal Jan Truitt said school administrators didn't
always understand the new economy.
"I'm not pointing fingers, but in previous years people thought that there are
just groups of kids who are not going to get a high school diploma and that
they might be better off quitting school and getting a job," Truitt said.
Marana High's dropout rate has been halved the past three years, to 6
percent from 12 percent.
Tucson Unified School District, which has the largest enrollment of any
district in the county, is losing 4 percent of its students a year, down from a
dropout rate of 10.5 percent in 1995.
TUSD administrators say they already are seeing the results of a more
personal and comprehensive approach to dropout prevention.
Last year, the district made its first "totally comprehensive" effort, said
Associate Superintendent Becky Montaņo.
The multipronged effort involves the district's various minority studies
departments as well as counselors in following up on chronically absent
"They are all taking responsibility for following the kids on the list who have
not made it to school," she said.
Their responsibilities also include tracking attendance and making home
visits, said Barbara Berheim, TUSD dropout prevention coordinator. And, she
said, some of the schools with the lowest dropout rates have the best methods
for tracking students.
At one of those, Dodge Middle School, not one of its 279 students
dropped out in 2001-02.
Mansfeld Middle School had a dropout rate close to Dodge's, with just 0.1
percent of its 687 students quitting.
And last year, 1.5 percent of Alice Vail Middle School's 655 students
"In general, they're working toward their zero percent," Berheim said.
Part of TUSD Superintendent Stan Paz's "BOLD! Game Plan of 2000"
was to have no dropouts in the district within five years.
State school chief Molera said targeting potential dropouts at an early age is
the key to success. Students who fail to learn to read well by third grade can
get frustrated and don't see the purpose in school once they get into the higher
HOW MANY DROPPED OUT:
Number of 2001-02 dropouts, by sex, in the state
Statewide in seventh through 12th grades, 6.4 percent of females and 7.8
percent of males dropped out in 2001-02.
Number of 2001-02 dropouts, by ethnicity, in the state
Source: Arizona Department of Education
DROPOUT RATES BY DISTRICT AND GRADE:
Arizona's overall dropout rate for seventh- through 12th-graders was 6.7
percent in the 2001-02 school year. It was 9.8 percent in 1994-95.
Seventh- and eighth-grade students
2001-02 dropout rate
1994-95 dropout rate
Ninth- through 12th-grade students
* Vail was an elementary district in 1994-95.
Source: Arizona Department of Education