Study To Address Decatur High School Drop-Out Rate

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DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) - In Alabama, the State Board of Education determines the class curriculum for each and every public school student. Some people call it the "cookie-cutter curriculum," the notion that every child should study the same, exact thing. But in Decatur, school officials are looking for ways to attack their high school drop-out rate, and the curriculum is one of many things coming under scrutiny.

Decatur City Schools officials say they can spot a potential high school drop-out as early as the ninth grade.

"The factors we're gonna look at, which are nationwide factors, are attendance, kid starts to miss school, disclipine, you start to have high rate of disclipine, and of course your grades begin to drop," says Superintendent Dr. Ed Nichols.

Decatur High School has been chosen to participate in a John Hopkins University study to help address the high school drop-out problem. Teams will be created to help young students on an individual basis. It's like an intervention program for students who seem to be having a hard time in or with school.

"One of the things we're looking at in Decatur is to try to give a wider array of opportunities in their curriculum in the ninth grade, so that we can try to get them engaged into their school," Nichols says. He added, "You know, kids that are involved in fine arts, athletics, a career tech program, all of these types of programs, which are usually back-loaded for the 11th and 12th grade a lot of times, are the very programs we need more accessibility to in the 9th grade. So kids are engaged in school and therefore their attendence is better, their disclipine is better, they have a role model, a mentor that they're connected with."

Nichols says for many years, Alabama's school curriculum has been geared toward preparring high school students to enter a four year college. But as college becomes more expensive, and with the explosion in so-called blue collar jobs, he says schools need to re-think their goals.

Dr. Nichols says, in essence, schools are going to have to adapt to the needs and interests of the students, rather than to continue to expect students to adapt to what schools decide to teach. He says that it could very well mean that the so-called cookie cutter curriculum is headed out the school house door.

By the way, Dr. Nichols says reports that Decatur High School's graduation rate is at 64% are misleading. He says those numbers include students that have moved out of the district and can no longer be tracked. They also include special needs students who may stay in the system until they're 21 years of age. The actual drop-out rate in Decatur is closer to 7%, which Dr. Nichols says is still much too high.