Rutland High turns to community for advice on preventing dropouts

Rutland High School officials are turning to someone new for ideas on how to keep students from dropping out.

Who better to give advice than their own community of parents, ministers and community leaders?

Thursday, Rutland launched a new program called CAFE, which stands for Circle of Adults Focusing on Education. It’s a program the state developed to get ideas from stakeholders to help students with disabilities or those at risk of not graduating.

Rutland is one of two schools in Georgia trying the program to see if it could help student achievement, said Patti Solomon, a program coordinator with the Georgia Department of Education in Atlanta. The other pilot school is Manchester High in Meriwether County.

“How much effect we have, we don’t know,” Solomon said. “But the research shows that if we don’t have family engagement, students have less chance of making it.”

State officials say the small community teams of 10 to 12 people look at specific school problems and combine their knowledge from real-life family experiences with that of community leaders and educators to help put a plan in place.

At Rutland’s CAFE session Thursday, the group included such community leaders as Central Georgia Technical College President Ron Natale and Macedonia Baptist Church associate minister Stanley Whitfield, along with parents, school counselors and even a campus police officer.

Rutland’s graduation rate this school year was 64 percent. The high school did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, the state’s measuring stick on whether it meets federal No Child Left Behind goals. Rutland missed the mark because not enough students overall passed math, and not enough low-income students passed the English/language arts portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test.

Principal Gail Gilbert said the group isn’t trying to make sure the school meets AYP, but rather clear some obstacles that prevent success at school.

Rutland’s group wants to focus on making sure freshmen have good attendance, since they say 68 percent of those students have missed at least six days of school.

They also want to look at why 123 of the school’s students have been retained and get more parents engaged in their children’s education, which may include more outreach from churches or going door to door.

“The biggest roadblock (is lack of parental involvement) in high school,” Gilbert said. “When we get to high school, parents scale back.”

The group, which met for the first time this week, plans to meet monthly this year.

“It’ll help if we can get into the community,” said one parent participant, Keith Tucker, who has eight children in the school system, including three at Rutland High.

“We want to be of assistance to students where the data is targeting.”

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.