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Project for Student Success: Task Force Examines Dropout Problem in Nashville

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“It’s clear from the work of the task force and other research in this area that the path to dropping out can start as early as elementary and middle school.”

In December 2007, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean created a forty-member task force called Project for Student Success and charged it with developing action steps to reduce Nashville’s dropout rate. On June 25, the task force issued its final report.

“A student doesn’t just wake up one day and decide not to go back to school,” Dean said. “It’s clear from the work of the task force and other research in this area that the path to dropping out can start as early as elementary and middle school.”

One of the report’s major themes is the need for Nashville schools to move from a focus on remediation to one of identification and prevention. As it notes, “Many of the issues with students, parents, and teachers today are the consequences and results of the risk factors and the inabilities to remediate them after the fact.” To better identify at-risk students before they drop out, the commission recommends a protocol for tracking student absences and a much more robust database to house both academic and nonacademic student data, including facts about student mobility and parental education level.

Turning its attention to teachers, the task force recommends continuous and rigorous professional development for teachers and administrators who teach in schools with chronically poor academic performance. It also calls for incentives for teachers and administrators in low-performing schools who demonstrated gains in test scores, attendance, and graduation rates.

The report also focuses on the importance of family and community in ensuring that a student graduates from high school. To increase this type of involvement in schools, the task force suggests that the city start a faith-based community collaboration between government support agencies and thirty faith-based social support sites that are located in hot spots for crime and truancy. It also calls for a districtwide “First Day Celebration” that would allow parents and families to meet with school personnel in an informal environment and also feature community agencies to provide other needed information, such as tutoring options or job assistance.

The task force also notes a lack of coordination between the many youth programs that are operating in the city and that there are few such programs for middle and high school students. It offers several recommendations concerning access to high-quality afterschool and summer programs and learning opportunities.

It also calls for greater outreach to disengaged youth and young adults who have already dropped out of school and opportunities for these individuals to earn a high school diploma or GED.

More information on the report is available at http://www.nashville.gov/mocy/project_student_success.htm.

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