County dropout rates improve

Dropout rates improved in seven out of 12 Jackson County high schools last year, according to a state report released Tuesday.

The average one-year dropout rate for county high schools declined from 4.7 percent in 2005-06 to 3.9 percent in 2006-07. The rate is slightly lower than the state average of 4.4 percent.

Rates may have improved because of a Southern Oregon attendance program implemented in 2006. The program was designed to bring consistency in enforcement of laws requiring students to attend school until graduation or age 21.

Home visits from attendance officers, conferences among parents, students, teachers and administrators and other measures have helped persuade students to return to school, officials have reported.

The Medford School District this year increased the number of hours it contracts for an attendance officer.

Prospect and Medford had the highest high school dropout rates overall as districts.

With seven out of 93 students dropping out, Prospect had a rate of 7.5 percent. In the Medford School District, 222 out of 4,113 students dropped out, a rate of 5.4 percent, an improvement from the previous year's 6.5 percent. Butte Falls had no dropouts among 81 pupils, and Central Point, with 19 dropouts out of 1,624 students, or 1.2 percent, had the lowest dropout rate in the county.

The top five reasons students listed for dropping out included being significantly behind in credits, pregnancy or childcare responsibilities, working more than 15 hours a week, a lack of parental support for education and a dysfunctional home life.

Oregon schools Superintendent Susan Castillo in a statement noted that there is a correlation between the state's dropout rate and economic prosperity. When more jobs are available as they were in 2006, the dropout rate tends to rise, Castillo said.

Marcial Bonilla, 16, stopped attending North Medford earlier this school year after struggling with classes and failing to resist temptations from friends to play hooky.

"I kind of felt guilty about it because my parents thought I was going to school, but one of my friends would come along and change my mood," Bonilla said.

He was close to being dropped from classes when truancy officer Raul Lopez intervened. North Medford staff members called on Lopez to help after noticing Bonilla's erratic attendance and slipping grades.

Lopez, a truancy officer with the Southern Oregon Education Service District, let Bonilla know there were options other than North Medford: completing a general equivalency diploma, AmeriCorps, the Job Council and Medford Opportunity High School, an alternative night school. Bonilla was attracted to Medford Opportunity because his girlfriend, Donna Malfavon, had attended and said good things about it.

"She said, 'Life without an education, you just can't do it,'" Bonilla recalled.

Sometimes preventing students from dropping out just takes letting them know someone cares and reminding them there are options for finishing school, Lopez said.

Some students need smaller class sizes, more one-on-one time with teachers or a flexible schedule to accommodate work hours or child care to flourish in school, said Guy Tutland, Medford Opportunity assistant principal. The alternative night school offers much of that.

The school is trying to increase its appeal to students who have trouble attending classes, such as offering more internships.

"We have students all the time call to say they've been out of school one, two, three years and want to come back to school and get a diploma," Tutland said. "Sometimes the student has gone through a difficult time and finally got their feet under them and realize if they want to accomplish their goals in life they have to go back to school."

Tutland said school staff does what it can to prevent students from dropping out by learning what's happening in their lives and providing incentives and options for completing work.

But when students do drop out, he said, staff members phone students to try to coax them back to school. They also employ the services of Lopez.

In other details of the report, slightly more boys dropped out than girls across the state and in the county in 2006-07. The county also mirrored the state in the disproportional number of dropouts who are Hispanic. Statewide, the Hispanic dropout rate was 7.9 percent compared to the white dropout rate of 3.6 percent. However, the rate of Hispanic dropouts declined slightly, while the white dropout rate inched up by less than a percentage point.

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