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Gill-Montague Regional Schools

Dropout rate down

Turners Falls High sees lowest dropout rate in recent memory

TURNERS FALLS — District administrators announced this week that years of effort have paid off with a Turners Falls High School dropout rate below the state average.

“We’ve recently learned that after many years of working ... we’ve reduced it to a rate that’s below the state average for the first time,” said Martin Espinola, district director of teaching and learning.

The dropout rate is down to 2.1 percent, Espinola said.

That rate applies to the 2012-2013 school year. The school’s dropout rate was 2.8 percent the prior year, 7.8 percent the year before that. The latest dropout rate is the lowest since at least 2002.

Espinola said efforts included the “Rise Up” alternative class for at-risk students begun five years ago, a computer-based catch-up program for students falling behind on the credits needed to graduate, a team of staff and administrators dedicated to identifying at-risk students.

The school also has a co-teaching program bringing special education teachers into regular-ed classrooms to keep students in a single group and avoid the stigma of special education, and last year hired a part-time guidance counselor specializing in working with students at risk of dropping out.

That counselor, Karen Hidalgo, said there are risk factors such as income and gender the school can’t address easily and those it can, including attendance. Hidalgo said she focused on attendance last year, sending a letter home to parents if a student missed four classes. If necessary, parent meetings followed.

Suspensions can also lead to students dropping out, Hidalgo said, so the school now has short-term grant support for a two-person team in the in-school-suspension program, one to help mediate conflicts and one to help the students get caught up in their classes.

Principal Thomas Osborn said he intends to bring back the so-called Freshman Academy, a model in which a team of teachers are assigned exclusively to the ninth grade, with time scheduled to meet and collaborate as a self-contained group within the school.

“I think this is excellent, congratulations,” said School Committee Chairwoman Joyce Phillips.

Asked if there was any similar support for high-achievers, Osborn said he is designing a program to reward the highest-achieving students by allowing them to skip one to two final exams, as well as raffling prizes including prom tickets and his parking space. The program will also reward high attendance.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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