Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Georgia Highlighted at National Dropout Prevention Conference

Georgia's Education Leaders as Keynote Speakers

In November, 2008, Atlanta was host to the 20th Annual Dropout Prevention Network Conference. Carrying the Torch of Dreams...Every Student Graduates was the conference theme. It influenced general sessions, roundtable discussions, site visits and small discussion groups that filled the 3-day schedule for classroom teachers, administrators and guidance counselors in attendance from all over the United States. Presenting partners for the conference included: Communities in Schools in Georgia, Georgia Department of Education, National Dropout Prevention/Network, National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities, North Georgia Learning Resources System, and The Georgia Regional Education Services Agencies (RESAs).

Creating a Culture of Hope was the theme of the Opening General Session presented by Dr. Molly Howard. Dr. Howard is the Principal at Jefferson County High School in Louisville, Georgia. She is also the 2008 NASSP/MetLife National High School Principal of the Year. Dr. Howard was introduced to the conference as "the principal who took a failing school in rural Georgia and over the next three years converted it into a dramatic example of how a school can reinvent itself. Consolidating schools into one high school provided the catalyst for change and created a sense of urgency. Factors in this rural central Georgia county: Generational poverty, 12-15% went onto post secondary education, highest dropout rate in the state, highest teenage pregnancy rate and one of the highest low birth weight in the Southeast.

Talking points Dr. Howard offered under the heading of Lessons Learned Along the Way:
*Become a Reflective Practitioner
* Education leaders are architects of hope
* Successful schools have a specific, focused vision led by a strong set of core beliefs
* Each student is challenged academically
* Personalized learning - prior failures do not define a student's potential
* In leadership, power and influence do not emanate from position - power emanates from and
through relationships
* Students need to see real world relevance for their efforts

Dr. Howard can now describe Jefferson County High School's accomplishments in terms of 68% of the students receive a diploma and a certificate of program completion at a local technical college and /or a 4-year Georgia state college. Jefferson County High School is preparing students for high demand, high wage jobs.

Georgia's Gov. Sonny Perdue and Kathy Cox, State Superintendent of Schools, addressed the conference in the Closing Keynote Address. They stressed that the #1 Goal in the P-20 education experience is that everyone is pulling together to increase the high school graduation rate, decrease the dropout rate and increase post-secondary enrollment. Students will stay in school when they see it as relevant to their life and when they know that someone in that school is counting on them to finish. The collaboration between the high school and middle school Graduation Coaches and Guidance Counselors is a significant factor in recent increases in Georgia's high school graduation rate.

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