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|Seminar focuses on school dropouts|
More than 18,000 high school students throughout the state drop out each year and local and state leaders say the problem will only exacerbate an already poorly trained workforce.
Economic development leaders in the state say the No. 1 reason given by companies for not locating in Louisiana is the lack of a qualified workforce.
The West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce, along with officials from Ouachita Parish Schools and the business community took part (today) Thursday, Feb. 26, in a seminar focused on the dropout issue.
The meeting was held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the West Monroe Convention Center. It was the first meeting by the local community leadership team involved in "Louisiana's Promise," an initiative to develop "community-wide solutions to the dropout problem in Louisiana."
Ouachita Parish Schools Superintendent Dr. Bob Webber is one of the leaders of the local community team.
"All our efforts will be to prevent students from dropping out of school," Webber said. "We're working with the business community and others and we hope by all of us working together, we can help eliminate the dropout rate in our area. We're going to do all we can to reduce these numbers because one child who drops out is one too many."
The group met to talk about their plans and what needs to be done to address the dropout rate locally.
"We need for everyone to come together because that's what it will take," Webber said.
Mary Ann Newton, president of the West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber, said a recent study by Clemson University found that dropout indicators were pretty much the same for each state.
They include problems at home, poverty and health of students and the feeling by many students that classes being taught did not have any relevancy to what they wanted to do with their lives.
Dr. Phillip Rozeman of Shreveport is the voluntary chairman of Louisiana's Promise. He spoke with local officials during the seminar.
Webber said Rozeman discussed how the Shreveport and Bossier City area have combated their dropout problem.
Two years ago the Caddo Parish School System received a $200,000 grant from the Shreveport-Bossier Community Foundation to hire more truancy officers to immediately respond to students who had three or more absences. Since that time they have almost cut in half the amount of students who accumulated five or more absences during a school semester.
A Shreveport Alliance for Education also got the Caddo Parish District Attorney's office to send letters to parents whose children were missing school. Before the district attorney's office got involved, those letters would come from the school system. Many parents would simply throw them away.
According to Shreveport officials, having the district attorney issue truancy notices increased response among parents by 70 percent.
"The whole premise of this program is we've got to find out why the kids are dropping out of school and develop programs to keep them there," Newton said. "It all relates back to the workforce issue."
Working with the Ouachita Parish School Board, the West Monroe/West Ouachita chamber developed several programs for intervention, support and mentoring of students.
"But we've got to take it a few steps further," Newton said. "It's got to become more refined, more consistent and that's what we're trying to do now."
She said students need to know as early as seventh grade that there are different career pathways they can take.
"College is not the only career pathway," Newton continued. "There's a lot of technical trades that pay very well.
"A lot of young people who get this training, they end up developing their own companies. But for a lot of years, for some crazy reason, there's been a stigma attached to people who are tradesmen. That's got to stop. Some of those people are the most talented, creative folks in any community. They provide an unending list of services.
"We need to work with the community and technical colleges and the high schools to give kids other options. That's what it's all about.
"We keep beating our heads up against the wall and hear about workforce development, but you've got to have the people to train. So we cannot continue to ignore this dropout issue."