Members of the Putnam County Dropout Plan Committee have a three- to five-year plan to improve the dropout rates of students in the county. Their proposed outline for North and South Putnam, Cloverdale and Greencastle high schools is designed to bring graduation rates up to 90 percent for all four schools.
With current graduation rates ranging from 72.8 for Cloverdale to 86.4 for South Putnam students, all four county schools have a vested interest in improving the number of graduates.
One of the major goals of the group is to identify specific grade levels when students begin to show dropout symptoms.
"At North Putnam, we are looking at the middle school levels to get some idea if we have some students falling behind. Things like attendance and discipline issues help us to tell. We hope to get early warning signs of potential problems and continue identifying that process through the ninth and 10th grade," said North Putnam High School Principal Alan Zerkel.
"We plan to take some kind of remedial and corrective action after identifying issues. We don't know yet what all we will do, but definitely get parents in to meet with teachers and try to get attendance up," added Zerkel.
This is then followed by increasing options for alternative learning opportunities for students who struggle in traditional school settings.
According to Greencastle High School Principal Randy Corn, students in his school system have a positive opportunity in Area 30.
"Currently, we have a lot of students for Area 30 and the alternative school out there. The county principals have met to talk about alternatives to expulsion," said Corn.
He and a group of staff members recently visited Ben Davis University in Indianapolis to look at how they are trying to work with students identified to possibly be at risk.
"We've also been talking to Ivy Tech about some programs. Our intent is to increase the number of dual credits a student can receive. At Ben Davis University, a student can actually graduate with an associates degree," Corn told the Banner Graphic.
"Of course we work here on a much smaller scale. Ben Davis has over 4,000 students. We want to see if we can develop a program here that will allow students to earn more college credits here," he continued.
GHS sees a problem with several groups of students, particularly kids turning 18 and just dropping out.
"We don't have much recourse for that. Kids think they can get their GED and it will be easy. A GED is a much more difficult test to pass than the graduation requirement. The GED is not what it used to be," said Corn. He added he was at a recent meeting where Indiana School Superintendent Dr. Tony Bennett told them the military is no longer accepting the GED as a qualification for enlistment.
"If you can't get into the military with it, what can you do? You can go to Ivy Tech or Vincennes University, but you are limited. We need to find some way to make them (students) see school is more valid," noted Corn.
"Kids need a high school diploma. Area 30 and other work-study programs, allowing kids to earn college credit, help. But we need to do more with focusing on making education relevant to students," he concluded.
The support of the business community, federal and state grants to assist in providing funds for development and staffing of alternative educational programs and an increase in the 21st Century Scholarship program are important to the success of the plan.
In order to accomplish their goal, group members identified strategies. These include working with all four county school corporations to establish an alternative to expulsion; improving attendance of all students by engaging more parents in their children's school lives; examining factors that place students at risk and implementing grade recovery plans; and developing more after school and summer activities for students such as tutoring, mentoring, internships, service learning and career explorations in and out of school.
Other strategies include better recognition of home school programs, implementing a process for parental accountability, upgrading the General Equivalency Degree (GED) recipients to be considered as graduates and to lower the costs of online high school completion courses.
One of the biggest hurdles the group faces is changing the GED requirements. Currently, students who get their GED are still considered dropouts from the school they left.
"Parents, teachers and administrators still encourage these students to finish and they receive their equivalency degree, but they don't get to walk across the stage. We'd like to find a way for schools to count these students as graduates," said Zerkel.
As far as the community and businesses, there are good reasons to be involved in the initiative.
"It behooves the community to be involved, not just because it affects their children, but better educated people make a better educated community with a workforce that helps draw business to the community because it can support their hiring needs," said David English, group facilitator.
A mentoring program or programs is another facet of helping improve graduation rates.
"At our last meeting we had members of the Boys and Girls Club who have a formal mentoring program talk about how it can help. We can also develop mentoring groups in the schools. Both have positives," added English.
How successful the initiative is will be determined by the improved graduation rates over the next three years.
"It also helps to redevelop that sense of community, commitment and caring. The saying is trite but true--it takes a village to raise a child," noted English.