Improving graduation rates is all about having options - which is why Upshur County school system administrators want to offer one more pathway to students at risk of dropping out, Jodie Akers, director of student services, told the Upshur County Board of Education Tuesday.
Akers briefed the board on a statewide Option Pathway program, which the county is hoping to incorporate into its curriculum. As its name suggests, the program offers three options to students who may be considering dropping out of high school.
Akers said the school system is focusing on the first option, which would allow academically at-risk students to split their day between working toward attaining their GED and honing a specific skill at the Fred W. Eberle Technical School, where the program would be housed.
"At the completion of their senior year, once they have completed their certification at the Fred Eberle Technical Center and worked through the GED process and actually passed the GED, those students would then be given their GED as well as their high school diploma," Akers explained to board members during their regular meeting.
"So they are still considered our students. They're still allowed to participate in sports and any of the activities we offer ... they take the WESTEST or any standardized tests that the state gives, so it's another option to help students get through and graduate."
Before implementing the program, Upshur County needs to hire an adult basic education teacher, Akers added.
Upshur County Superintendent of Schools Roy Wager noted the school system has already written several waivers this year asking that Upshur County students be allowed to follow this course of study, despite the fact that Upshur County isn't considered an "Option" county. Those waivers were granted by state superintendent of schools Dr. James Phares.
"We've written five waivers to actually do this right now," Wager said, "and these are students that wanted to drop out, and by giving them this option, they're not dropping out. They're going to try this pathway to see if we can get them through."
Akers noted Upshur County is one of only 10 counties in the state that does not offer the Option Pathway program.
"We're one of the few that haven't come on board yet to provide this to our students," she said. "I don't foresee it encompassing a lot of students, but I think it's another great option to have. As you look at how our graduation rate is increasing and we're reducing our drop-out rate, it's about having options in the county."
Akers highlighted an improvement in the county's drop-out rate, saying 16 students had dropped out of school by November 2012; however, to date, only 13 students have dropped out of school this academic year.
"We're hoping we can keep it right there," she said. "We've been working really hard, and having some great conversations with families who come in about why it's important for their students to stay in school."
Upshur and Lewis counties would partner in offering the Option Pathway program, so the cost of operations and implementation - as well as number of available slots - would be split evenly between the two counties. Akers said there would be a morning and an evening session, each of which would accommodate 15 students, meaning each county would be able to select seven students to partake in the program per session.
"We think it's a great opportunity for our students," she said, "and once you become an Option county, you actually have three different options that you can use. We're looking at Option 1, where we're actually looking at students who have failed major core courses in grades 9 through 12 but they also have a credit recovery option too, so if and when we do become an option county, they could use the credit recovery system as well."
The third option - the GED option - is designed for students who are dropping out of school. Akers said students who decide to drop out of school are encouraged to take the GED test prior to leaving the public school system. Although such students "count against" the county's graduation rate, if they pass the GED examination, they can be removed from the county's dropout rate.
A team comprised of a school counselor, a school administrator, Director of the Fred Eberle Center Dr. Mike Cutright, Wager and Akers will review student candidates and determine whether or not they are eligible to participate in Option 1 of the Option Pathway program.
Akers described the selection process as "rigorous."
"They have to have a certain math and reading score because they have to have the ability to pass the GED," she said. "That's the bottom line."
Wager emphasized that although many people view the GED as "the easy way out," it is actually "a tough test and kids realize that."
The school system is aiming to have the program up and running by the second semester, and although the board of education's approval isn't necessary prior to proceeding, "We just wanted you to be in the loop," Wager said.
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