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Bedford dropout rate one of lowest in state

In offering explanations for the low dropout rates at their high schools, education professionals in the communities covered by Neighborhood News point to a common denominator: alternative programs aimed at students struggling with the conventional paths toward high school graduation.
New Hampshire Education Commissioner Virginia M. Barry last month released dropout data for the 2011-12 academic year, showing that New Hampshire continues to have one of the lowest dropout rates in the country, despite a rate last year that increased slightly over the previous year’s rate. In 2011-12, the rate was 1.26 percent, up from 1.19 percent in the 2010-11 academic year.

One of the lowest rates in the state was recorded at Bedford High School, which according to Department of Education data had less than 1 percent of its student population last year turning their backs on a high school education. As of last year, Bedford High had a total student population of 1,327.

Bedford’s rate in the most recently released data was 0.29 percent. When looked at as a four-year cumulative rate, the percentage rose to 1.19 percent, still considerably lower than the statewide four-year cumulative rate of nearly 5 percent.

So what is Bedford doing right? Chip McGee is the assistant superintendent at SAU 25, and he said that Bedford High’s success is a result of “exceptional faculty” and the engagement of the Bedford community, specifically parents who place a high premium on education and all that it means in terms of social and financial mobility.

“If I could speak candidly, one difference we have is a community that’s, on average, more affluent and doesn’t bring outside-of-school issues to the inside,” he said.

Beyond that, he said Bedford also has an adult education program, currently in its third year, which graduates students who are serious about life after high school but who don’t necessarily fit the four-year college-bound mold. Sixteen of those students graduated last year, McGee said. “The adult high school diploma program is a wonderful opportunity for kids,” he said.

At Salem High School, which had a student population of 1,498 in 2011-12, the dropout rate was less than 1 percent, with a four-year cumulative rate of 2.1 percent.

Similar to Bedford, Salem has an adult diploma program where “students who don’t typically succeed in the traditional day school program” can flourish, said School Superintendent Michael Delahanty.

What educators find with many of the students attending adult diploma programs is that there are daytime distractions for them that make it difficult to attend and stay focused during the hours of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those distractions can take many forms, from a full-time job to personal problems at home.

The state requirement for adult diploma programs is that students must earn 20 ½ credits in order to graduate, whereas the requirement to graduate from the more conventional weekday curriculum is 28 credits.

“That 28-credit requirement can be a challenge for some students,” Delahanty said. He added that students who obtain an adult high school diploma often move on to two-year post-secondary programs, with some even continuing even further to get a bachelor’s degree.

Adult diploma programs are not to be confused with the GED, which is a “relatively straightforward English and math test,” said Delahanty. And while the GED is a difficult exam, Delahanty said, students are not required to attend classes where homework is assigned and regular tests are given. “We have GED prep courses, so in fact we teach to that test,” Delahanty said.

In Goffstown, too, alternative programs are designed for students unable, for whatever reason, to fully succeed in the five-days-a-week environment. Through the GAP program, anyone 16 or older can obtain either an adult education diploma or a GED equivalency.

Goffstown High, which had a student population of 1,191 in 2011-12, had 25 students drop out in that academic year, and five others earning their GED.

“Obviously, we always want the dropout rate to get better,” said Goffstown High Principal Frank McBride. But, he added, there is the rare occasion when a student who drops out can be a “net positive” for the entire school community. “Do we think the dropout rate is too high? Always,” McBride said. “But will it ever be at zero? I don’t know that that’s realistic.”

The GAP program in Goffstown is for students 16 and older, and classes are held on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Diploma courses are offered for those looking to earn a high school diploma or – as the program’s website says – for those looking to “brush up on key areas before heading into a college program.” Diploma courses at the GAP are $125 per course plus the cost of books.

In Hooksett, the superintendent’s office said it does not track the number of high school students who drop out because it is a kindergarten through eighth grade school district. Hooksett sends its high school aged students to either Memorial or West high schools in Manchester, and School Superintendent Charles P. Littlefield said neither of those schools breaks out which students from Hooksett are included in the list of drop outs from those schools.

According to state Department of Education statistics, Manchester Memorial, with a student enrollment of 2,012 last year, had 65 students drop out, and 20 others earning their GED. At Manchester West High School, with 1,296 students in 2011-12, 63 students dropped out and 14 earned their GED.

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