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MHS Drop Out Rate Discussed

Not just the theme of after school specials, high school dropouts continue to be the focus of national discussion and federal grant monies. As Milford School Committee Chairman Paul Mazzuchelli discussed during the January 20 meeting, "a recent report said about one third of 8th graders (nationally) are at risk for dropping out." He went on to discuss how these raising rates are "hindering our ability to compete nationally."

In response to the school committee's prior vocal concern on this topic, Milford High School Principal Michael Tempesta and Guidance, Career and Academic Enhancement Supervisor Albert Mercado made a presentation about the current drop out rates at Milford High, potential scheduling options to deter this trend, possible alternative programs, and new classes being offered to keep the student body engaged.

With the eventual goal of no students dropping out, the school has already made strides since the peaked rates of almost 5 percent in the 2005/2006 school year. Since then the rate in Milford has dipped to 1.6 percent in 2007/2008 and was back up to 2.1 percent in 2008/2009; according to the most current numbers available from the state.

Mercado told the committee that in previous years "teen pregnancy was a factor, but it's not a factor right now. One of the main factors is a disinterest in school or a problem following rules and regulations. Some situations have been law enforcement driven."

There is also a population of students who were participating in alternative education programs in former schools and when they moved to Milford, found no similar programs, according to Mercado.

Another area where the school has made positive progress is communicating with non-English speaking families to explain the need for them to inform the schools when they are leaving town. "They understand, should they move out of the country or to another town, they can't just pick up and go," he said.

Mercado explained to the committee the importance of record keeping when it comes to drop outs. He said following state law a certified letter is sent to the family between the students 10th and 15th consecutive absence asking the student to return to school. Follow ups are also conducted by phone as part of the outreach.

Unfortunately, the recent decrease in drop out rates in Milford, which are below the state average, has made it unlikely that the town can access grant monies currently available. Mercado does believe that the 2009/2010 numbers "might be the same as the state average, in which case there is some pretty decent money available that we may be able to access."

Mazzuchelli believes "the earlier you intervene, the better the rate of success... When we go back and look at the records of the drop outs, we can see trends in 2nd and 3rd grade" Vice-chairwoman Lori Baranauskas said, "They're still our kids [the drop outs]. They might not be the school's problem, but they're the community's problems. . . we need to at least pilot an alternative school setting, I am really pleased to hear your thoughts on that and hearing that there is flexibility to try these options. There has got to be a way to make this happen."

As well as looking at the flexibility of scheduling, Tempesta said, "we are looking at a bunch of schedules while preserving the variety of courses offered. During the first two years, they are getting a more solid foundation and the later two years they have more choice and selection."

In the fall, academically driven students will find three new Advanced Placement courses: environmental science, probability and statistics, and psychology. There will also be the return of a beloved course, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner; a Shakespeare course; World Literature through Drama; and Spanish video.

There is also discussion of a community service, learning course that would be available as an elective and an alternative choice for kids in need of an alternative, but Tempesta said he wasn't ready to officially put it out there.




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