During the early ‘80s, I was doing an internship in order to receive my principal license. I was matched with a veteran high school principal, and I started at the beginning of the school year. During the first few days, I walked along with him as he patrolled the halls. He told me that his job for the first two weeks was to single out 10 to 12 “drop-back-in” students. The purpose, he told me, was to get them out as quickly as possible.
Why? The students usually just dropped back in to see if the rules had changed, and when they found out nothing had changed, they then started creating problems for teachers. He said teachers really liked this visible show of support for a safe environment. I thought at the time – what about the kids? What happens to them?
When I became an assistant principal at the same school, I was determined to do something different for the drop-back-in students. That was when I started to really investigate alternative programs. I quickly figured out that the adults needed to change, rather than expecting the children to be something they were not able to be.
As with most things, I was probably a little ahead of my time, but when I became a superintendent in North Carolina, I had to meet with 16-year-olds who wanted to drop out of school. At most of these meetings, I was frustrated and the parents were frustrated. Why?
There was something terribly wrong with these scenarios – the 16-year-old students were making the decisions and telling the adults what they were going to do. A 16-year-old does not have the capacity to understand how a short-term decision is going to have such long-lasting ramifications on his/her life.
In my next superintendent position, I established a policy that would not allow students to get a waiver to drop out and get a GED. While this frustrated parents, students and teachers, it was the right thing to do. What happened as a result was that we created model programs that lowered the dropout rate from being the highest in North Carolina to one of the 10 best. The graduation rate moved from 58 percent to more than 80 percent.
We have the capacity to implement House Bill 301 in Kentucky. The Kentucky Board of Education strongly supports college- and career-ready graduates as being the number 1 goal for our agency. We have initiatives in place that already support this bill, and in March and April meetings, the Governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force will be looking at specific programs that can be implemented based on Section 2, Part 6 of this bill.
Many districts, like Warren County, Jessamine County and Fayette County, are already implementing initiatives that address the dropout rate. The adults can figure out how to address the needs of the children. While we could do this without the bill, the bill gives the adults the leverage we need to change what we do.
I encourage you to send a strong signal to students, parents and teachers - support this bill based on what is right for children and the future of Kentucky, not on what is convenient for adults.