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Big Fat Zero: Walton-Verona has had no dropouts for nearly seven years


When it comes to keeping kids in school, a small, rural school district in Boone County is one of the best in the state.

No middle- or high-school student has dropped out of the Walton-Verona Independent School District in at least the last five school years, according to statistics released today by the Kentucky Department of Education.

That makes Walton-Verona's no-dropout streak the longest in the state, said Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education.

The dropout data was part of a volume of "nonacademic'' data released by the state agency today. Other data included graduation rates, retention rates and rates of successful transition to life after high school.

Walton-Verona Superintendent Bill Boyle said the no-dropout streak actually dates to the 1999-2000 year, and "we're working on year number seven in a row right now."

A seven-year period with no dropouts says that the district "is meeting the needs of its students," Gross said. "Students drop out of school when they are not engaged or they are bored. Walton-Verona is doing a great job of finding out what its students' interests are, and finding out what they are interested in doing after graduation."

Boyle attributes the success to two factors.

"This is an inviting place to come to school," he said. "We provide a stimulating and a caring environment."

The other is the district's Students and Families Empowered (SAFE) program, Boyle said. Every day a student is absent, the district calls home to check on the reasons for the absence. When a student is out for more than one day, the family gets a visit at home from Larry Davis, the district's SAFE agent.

"He bridges the gap between home and school, whatever that may be," Boyle said. Family or personal problems such as economic, disciplinary or even health problems that could interfere with a student's learning potential and lead to absences are discussed.

"(Davis) gets to the root of the issue," Boyle said. "He's at their house, and he's not there just to banter with them. He deals with any family on any issue, and dedicates the time to follow through with them. You can't deal with some of these problems with just a lick and a promise.

"With dropouts, there's often an underlying problem" that prompts the decision to leave school, and the SAFE program works to address such problems "before the student makes a bad decision," Boyle said.

Other Northern Kentucky districts with no dropouts last year were Beechwood, Bellevue and Silver Grove. According to state data, Silver Grove had only one student drop out since the 1999-2000 school year.

Augusta Independent school district has not had a dropout since 2002, and Cloverport and Hazard independent districts are dropout-free since 2003, Gross said.

Walton-Verona has 580 students in grades seven through 12, and 1,250 overall. "If this was the Boone County district, they'd need four people to do what Larry Davis does," Boyle said.

In fact, Boone County has its own version of the program, called Families and Schools Together (FAST), which has six staff members in a combination of full-time and part-time positions, said Stephen Ogden, assistant director of pupil personnel.

FAST staff members respond to referrals, and invite families with truancy-related problems to gather in a classroom setting, four or five at a time, for discussions, Ogden said.

But even so, Boone County had the highest dropout rate among Northern Kentucky districts last year, when 1.88 percent of students in grades seven through 12 left school, according to the state data.

Boone County and Conner high schools had the highest dropout rates among Northern Kentucky high schools, at 3.92 and 3.29 percent, respectively. Boone County High's dropout rate more than doubled from the previous year, when it was 1.8 percent.

Boone County Superintendent Bryan Blavatt was surprised to learn that state data showed his district's dropout rate was the highest in Northern Kentucky.

"I didn't think we were that high," he said. "As far as I knew, we've always been one of the best, and I don't know why it's up."

He said the way the state categorizes a dropout student might be a factor. If a family moves from the area and does not leave a forwarding address, then students in that family are classified as dropouts, Blavatt said. He said downsizing at Delta Air Linescould have created situations like that.

Blavatt speculated the higher dropout rate could be related to the FAST program.

"We're putting pressure on them to attend class, and they, in turn, are bailing, in some cases," he said.

Blavatt added that Boone County's high school dropout rate of 2.94 in 2004-05 was better than the state average, 3.49 percent. Blavatt also lauded the attendance rates at the district's three high schools, including Ryle, which were all above 93 percent. But both Boone County and Conner were below the state school attendance average of 94.31 percent.

He said he and his staff would start reviewing the statistics, trying to determine "where we are losing students, and why."

Dropout rates for other Northern Kentucky school districts for 2004-05 in grades seven through 12 were: Fort Thomas, 0.25 percent; Erlanger-Elsmere, 0.4, Ludlow, 0.42; Campbell County and Newport, both 0.71; Covington, 0.88; Kenton County, 1.21; and Dayton, 1.28.

This article was published May 25, 2006, in The Kentucky Post.

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