Fewer students dropped out of Cabarrus County schools during the 2008-2009 school year than the previous year, according to a recent state report.
The annual dropout report released by the N.C. Department of Instruction showed that 359 students dropped out of Cabarrus County high schools in the 2008-2009 school year, bringing the dropout rate to 4.27 percent. That's down from 394 students, or 4.76 percent of students, in the 2007-2008 school year.
The county's figures were on par with the overall state dropout rate, which was also 4.27 percent. That rate decreased from 4.97 percent from the previous year.
Schools across the state with grades 9-12 reported 19,184 dropouts in 2008-2009, a 14.9 percent decrease from the 22,434 reported dropouts in 2007-2008.
Cabarrus County Schools Superintendent Barry Shepherd said he was pleased that the county's dropout rate had declined, but there's still work to be done.
"The numbers aren't anywhere near where they need to be," he said. "One student is one too many."
Because the report defines a dropout as "any student who leaves school for any reason before graduation or completion of a program of studies without transferring to another elementary or secondary school," the figures include students who withdrew from high school to take classes at community colleges.
The report also showed that violence and crime in Cabarrus County schools were down by 8 percent. And while long-term suspensions decreased by 22 percent, the number of short-term suspensions increased by 4 percent.
Ronnye Boone, Cabarrus County Schools' director of public relations, said those numbers reflect teachers' ability to communicate classroom expectations and hold students accountable for their actions.
Shepherd said the school system worked to prevent dropouts by implementing programs that work one-on-one with students. The system placed dropout prevention coordinators in high schools and developed after-school tutoring programs for at-risk students. Shepherd also pointed to the a transitional program for ninth-graders at Central Cabarrus High School and the Performance Learning Center, a nontraditional school that offers students the opportunity to catch up on class work through online and self-paced courses.
Attendance issues are the most commonly cited reasons for dropouts in the county, school officials said.
"Once a student gets behind with attendance and grades, it's hard for them to recover," said Carolyn DeBerry, a graduation coach at Concord High School.
DeBerry said the high school has a dropout prevention committee of administrators, counselors and a social worker who track students and identify those who are at risk of dropping out. When they notice that a student has missed several days, DeBerry said, she schedules a one-on-one session with the student to outline the options. She tells them about graduation requirements and puts them in the school's recovery program, which allows students to stay after school to make up the time and work they've missed.
DeBerry said she often refers students to the Performance Learning Center. She has five students there now.
Kevin Blackburn, principal of the PLC, said students there can work at their own pace.
Students at the school, which opened in 2007 in the former Odell Elementary School building in Concord, must finish their courses in 90 days, just as required at traditional high schools, but students at the PLC can receive credit for courses and move on to another class in less time if they finish the required coursework and score 80 percent on a test that demonstrates their mastery of the subject.
"The PLC isn't easier," Blackburn said. "It's just different. In some ways it's harder because they're working more on their own."
The PLC has 75 students at any given time, and the school has served 94 students so far this school year.
Demand for spots at the PLC is growing. Seven students were on the waiting list last week, Blackburn said, and the school receives about two applicants each week. Shepherd said the school system is looking into expanding the school to allow more students to attend.
DeBerry said interventions for students need to be put in place before they reach high school. She said many students aren't prepared for the adjustment to high school and don't realize the consequence of missing several days of class.
"You lose some," she said. "You try to do everything you can, but you lose some. It's a daily battle."