State initiative trying to reach high school dropouts

Argen Duncan

More than a year into the governor’s Graduate New Mexico initiatives, Roosevelt County schools have a number of programs aligned with the goal of giving more students a quality high school education.

The initiative aims to bring 10,000 high school dropouts back to earn a diploma by fall 2011, increase graduation rates and close the achievement gap, according to information on the state Public Education Department website. Federal stimulus money is paying for the initiative.

Floyd Municipal Schools Superintendent Paul Benoit said his district has a three-week-old online study program, e2020, that allows dropouts to earn diplomas at their own pace.

“It is designed to be more flexible than a traditional school day,” he said.

The program targets older, non-traditional high school students.

“Traditional students need to remain in school, and that’s one thing we’re focusing on,” Benoit said.

The Floyd district has four students, ranging in age from 18 to 52, working on e2020.

School employees called former students and invited them to participate. The returning students have their transcripts reviewed by a counselor and must meet with local teachers once a week to monitor their progress.

Benoit said Graduate New Mexico is funded only through next year. After that, Benoit said, district employees will do their best to make sure enrolled students finish their diploma.

However, he doesn’t know if the program will accept new students. He plans to keep e2020 around and use it to provide remedial and online or dual-credit courses to traditional students.

Portales High School Principal Melvin Nusser said the school staff was working on Graduate New Mexico’s goals even without the initiative.

“It’s not anything different than we’ve ever done,” he said.

Nusser said staff members look at non-graduates on a case-by-case basis to see if they could be successful in high school or should get a GED. They don’t recruit older dropouts, but if someone approaches the school for admission, they try to get the prospective student in credit recovery or online classes, Nusser said.

Also, if traditional students are behind, Nusser said, they are taken out of an elective and put in credit recovery classes, which use software programs to help them catch up.

On the achievement gap, state standardized scores show a significant gap in reading and a lesser one in math.

“Research indicates it’s not about ethnicity; it’s about socio-economic status,” Nusser said.

Faculty and staff try to communicate the importance of education to students from lower income families and let them know they can score just as well as their wealthier peers, he said.

The school also provides tutoring, has an extensive reading program and has hired more math teachers.

Nusser said school employees continue to refine their programs because they believe the efforts have helped, but not enough yet.