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School District Group Presents at National Dropout Prevention Conference

Members of the presentation team share hugs and handshakes with the school board

Daniel Prince

Group gives highlights from their presentation to the school board

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Union County Board of School Trustees, some of the members of the team that presented at the National Dropout Prevention Conference spoke. The national conference was held in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago. The group focused on improving the graduation rate of students with disabilities.

The team was formed in the fall of 2021 and quickly developed and implemented a plan to identify the students most at-risk of not graduating and put into place practices to help them. They created an early warning system that tracks those risk factors and identifies students needing interventions to help keep them on track to graduate on time. Some of the interventions include increased communication with parents, participating in IEP team meetings, and increasing parental contacts (both positive and negative).

The team wants to take a systematic approach to this, meaning they want to bring the program into the elementary and middle schools, as the risk factors for not graduating do not begin at high school but show up earlier on. They had a particular focus on the 9th grade transition year, and they introduced several interventions to help incoming freshmen. They noted that if a student completes 9th grade with at least 6 graduation units earned on the first attempt, that student is much less likely to drop out and more likely to graduate on time.

9th-grade interventions started with the Jacket Training camp over the summer, orienting new freshmen to the school and helping them to be more comfortable with the school before the school year ever started. They have a course called Read 180 in the first semester of the freshmen year where these at-risk students can work on their foundational reading skills with Mrs. Gault. In the second semester, they take English 1 with Mrs. Balkum in a course co-taught by Mrs. Gault. Their sophomore year, they would stay with Mrs. Balkum for English 2. The team said they were seeing great success with test scores from that arrangement in having that consistency in instruction from those two teachers. In math, the students take a Math 180 course with Mrs. Kelly working on math skills aligned with Algebra 1. Other interventions include tutoring, a graduation coach, and meaningful service learning, job shadowing, and work-based learning opportunities.

Jennifer Wall with the Transition Alliance of South Carolina said that Union County is leading the state pace-wise with this program, and this is not only a model for our state, but for the nation, as well, spotlighting Union County as an example of what other districts and other states should be doing.

Board member Frank Hart made a motion to officially express the board’s appreciation to the team for letting the U.S. know that Union County is doing something great. Many board members spoke and gave their thanks, as well. The motion was passed unanimously.

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