November 5, 2012 10:22:20 AM
Applications are due next week for organizations interested in joining the Columbus Municipal School District's fight to bring high school dropouts back into the classroom.
The recovery strategy, a first for the district, provides off-campus "e-centers," where students ages 16-21 can earn credits toward their high school diplomas. Churches, community centers and nonprofit agencies are eligible to become e-centers, but they are encouraged to apply early as the application process is lengthy. The required documentation must be hand-submitted to the district by Nov. 14 at 3 p.m. Interviews will be held Nov. 15-16.
To qualify, organizations must have the signed approval of their boards, board presidents and directors, and they must include the organization's strategic plan and show how their goals and objectives correlate with those of the district. They must also agree to provide space for parent and community training.
Though not a critical component for eligibility, preference will be given to organizations that can provide free daycare services on-site for students with children.
Three e-centers will open this year, but additional sites are anticipated next year, contingent upon funding. The first phase will be fully-funded by a $250,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation and a $95,000 Rural Education grant from the Mississippi Department of Education. A $5,000 Omnova Foundation grant will pay for parent literature and other promotional materials.
The approved e-centers will receive $700 per month for the district's usage of their facilities, but they must meet requirements designed to safeguard against cheating and student absenteeism.
A "life coach" will be hired at the centers to monitor attendance and assist students. Classes will be taught online by certified teachers who have acquired a master's degree or higher, and students will interact with the teachers via instant messaging and video technology.
Classes will be taught on weekdays from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Evening and summer classes may also be available.
Students will be subject to the same rules and regulations as mainstream students at traditional "brick and mortar" high schools. They will follow the same state-approved curriculum and must pass the same state exams to receive a diploma.
No alcohol, tobacco, drugs or weapons will be allowed at the e-centers, and violators are subject to disciplinary action by the district, which may include being barred from the site.
The e-centers are part of the district's new, Project 2020 plan -- a two-pronged approach to dropout prevention. In addition to recovering dropouts, the district is also planning to implement strategies to keep students in school by using attendance and test scores to predict which students are most likely to drop out.
Dropouts are becoming increasingly costly for the district, both financially and academically. Every dropout results in a $5,400 loss, and graduation rates are factored into the state board's district "report cards," which measure academic progress and accountability.
CMSD's five-year graduation rate is 69.7 percent, the second lowest in the Golden Triangle. The district received a "D" in the state's accountability rankings. Nearly 50 percent of the district's dropouts were black males.
In a written press statement, Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell attributed the high dropout rate to a "one-size-fits-all" method of educating children.
"We have to view our schools as an educational contract that we are in serious jeopardy of breaching," she said. "I'm not satisfied with breaking our promise to America's future and I'm determined to do something about it."
Liddell will deliver the keynote address at Mississippi Public Education's "Stop the Drop" dropout prevention conference Nov. 13 in Jackson.
According to the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, a Birmingham, Ala.-based nonprofit organization, a student drops out of school every 26 seconds, and more than 1.2 million students drop out each year.
To submit an application to become an e-center, hand-deliver a proposal by Nov. 14 to Jannette Adams at the Brandon Central Services Office at 2630 McArthur Drive. For more information, call 662-241-7400 or email Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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