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Phoenix High works to cut dropout rate

PHOENIX ' A dropout rate of 10.4 percent ' the third highest in the state in 2000-2001 ' was a little hard to swallow for Phoenix High School.

After an all-out effort to retain students, the 780-student school has managed to bring the rate down to 7.24 percent in 2001-2002, which will help the school's report card set for release by the state in January.

They're going in the right direction, and we hope they keep going that way, said Tim Mobley, curriculum director for the Phoenix-Talent School District.

But getting students to stay in school and improving record keeping has meant the district has had to shift some of its funding around.

Mobley said the district set aside &

36;5,000 just to study the problem this year. Another &

36;10,000 was used to hire a part-time counselor, but this meant abandoning a peer counseling program at the high school, he said.

How much more we've spent in manpower is hard to say, he said. People have just had to fit it into their already busy schedules.

Mobley said 57 students dropped out in 2001-2002, compared to 88 in 2000-2001.

Some of this improvement resulted from finding five students who had transferred to another district without the knowledge of the high school.

Mobley said the dropout rate problem has spurred schools in Jackson County to communicate more with each other.

Some students, he said, might leave Phoenix High, attend North Medford and later transfer to South Medford while being counted as a dropout at each school.

The state calculates a student as a dropout when transcripts requested by one school aren't sent by the previous school, he said.

A request for transcripts is supposed to be done in weeks, but sometimes it could take months, said Mobley.

Principal Bruce Rhodes said students drop out for many reasons, including poor grades, family breakdowns or lack of interest in school.

Sometimes they have moved several times and have the feeling they never fit in, he said.

Phoenix High has developed a number of ways to reinforce a student's desire to stay in school. These include an English Language Learner's program, a new student freshman orientation called Jump Start, and more collaboration between the middle and high schools to identify students who are falling behind.

Rhodes said the school has created a prevention team that identifies and works with at-risk students and has made more of an effort to communicate with parents.

We want to provide the structure and support around students to help them through high school, he said.

spring, Rhodes said, teachers and administration will try to implement more ideas such as expanding the school-to-work program.

Rather than just sitting in the classroom every day, we want to get them connected outside the classroom to show the relevance of school, he said.

The high school last month hired part-time counselor Scott Wood, of Community Works, to help with the dropout effort. He said students usually have legitimate reasons why they drop out.

Some no longer live with their parents, so he has to do some detective work to track them down at a boyfriend's or cousin's house ' or, in some cases, they may live on their own.

Some work full time, leaving them with little time left for school.

After a while, school seems to fade in importance, when it comes to that, he said.

His goal will be to target the students before they quit coming to school to find out if they are having emotional or work problems or just need another academic setting like night school.

It's not just that they're lazy, he said. It's not just that they're skipping school. Some kids just don't fit into the high school scene.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail