The crisis at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island is not the fight between the teachers union and school administration. That is only a distraction! The real crisis is the dropout rate. We must keep our focus where it belongs.
The 52% dropout numbers presented for Central Falls High are very familiar here in Dallas ISD. A 48% graduation rate would be a 4 percentage point improvement from the average 2009 graduation rate for Dallas ISD schools.
In 2005-2006 the total 9th grade enrollment was 14,680 for Dallas ISD. In 2009 there were 6,383 diplomas given out to that same class within Dallas ISD. That is a simple graduation rate of 43.5%. That was also the highest graduation rate for Dallas ISD in 4 years! It was a 2% improvement from 2008.
Thank God they are not firing the 10,800 teachers here in Dallas ISD! Instead we are working on a solution. There are dropout prevention projects all over our district. Current 2009/2010 enrollment for the 11th and 12th grades in all 32 high schools in Dallas ISD is 5% higher than it was in 2005/2006! This is an increase of 758 more upper class students during a time when the total district enrollment has gone down over 2%! Our graduation rate will continue to go up!
Our graduation rate will go up especially at two schools who used to have the lowest graduation rates in Dallas ISD: Sunset and Pinkston high schools. They are responsible for 417, or 55%, of this 758 student increase in upper grade enrollment. They are also the only high schools, from the 32 high schools in Dallas ISD, where almost half of their incoming freshmen have participated in the School Archive Project at the middle school level. That project helps students focus on their plans for 10 years into the future.
The following is a dropout prevention plan for Central Falls High School and it's feeder school, Calcut Middle School, based on what has been learned in Dallas since 2005. Each school needs to have staff meetings to discuss several future focused alternatives for their students, including the School Archive Project and the Freshman Transition Initiative. Have staff study the http://www.studentmotivation.org/ web site, as well as the http://www.freshmantransition.org/ web site, and any other similar projects, to prepare for the meeting. Invite staff to bring information about other future focused projects to more effectively provide their students with a realistic vision of their own futures. The goal is for students to much better understand how current classroom work relates to that future.
At the meeting staff will talk about the value of effectively focusing their students on their own futures. Donors should be easy to locate before the meeting who are willing to fund the needed vaults, as well as materials and/or training for the Freshman Transitions Initiative, if the teachers vote to try these projects. Both projects could easily work very well together, or separately.
If they decide on the School Archive Project then all students could start the process this year by writing letters before the end of the school year. These are letters students write to themselves about their lives and plans for the future. Parents should also be invited to write letters to their child about their hopes and dreams for their child. If parents are unable to write this letter another adult in the child's life, including a teacher, could write the letter. These letters by adults in the child's life are read by the student and then placed with their own letters inside the self addressed envelope each student places into the school vault. The 8th graders and the 12th graders would always be writing their letters with the focus being 10 years into the future.
Next year only the freshmen at Central Falls High, and the 6th graders at Calcut Middle School, would start the year by writing their letter for their respective school archives. Again their parents and/or adults in a students life would write an updated letter of their hopes for the child to be with the letter the student writes. These letters will be inside the child's envelope in the vault all during their high school or middle school years. At the end of 12th grade, or 8th grade, that letter would be pulled, and read for ideas as the students write their final letters for the vault. That letter would be placed by the students back into the school vault to wait for their class 10-year reunions.
Once the School Archive Project and/or the Freshman Transition Initiative were to start, a rapid change in attitude among students should be seen. Students will begin to realize that they are responsible for their own futures.
The teachers will be sending a priceless message to their students if they are able to tell them, "I look forward to seeing you at the 10-year reunion," as the students leave for the next level of education.
Everything that helps to create a family atmosphere in a school will be reinforced with these plans. It will all happen with the help of a vault turned into a time-capsule, and a plan focusing 10 years into the future.