Last year, Johnston County schools recorded their lowest dropout rate in five years and posted the most promising rate among its neighbors.
In the 2015-16 school year, 179 Johnston County students dropped out of classes. Among high school students, that’s a dropout rate of 1.67, down a few points from last year’s 1.99.
“I wouldn’t describe it as great news because we don’t have zero dropouts,” said Ray Stott, senior executive director for student services in Johnston. “But our numbers are trending in the right direction.”
Last year, Johnston high schools reported somewhat of a slip-up in the county’s downward-trending dropout rate with a one-year uptick. This year’s numbers, though, put Johnston below all surrounding counties. In the Triangle, only Orange County had a lower dropout rate at 0.84 percent.
Among Johnston high schools, Smithfield-Selma High saw the most students leave class, with 56 for the year. That number is slightly lower than the prior year’s 62, which more than doubled the number of dropouts the year before. Stott said SSS is showing significant signs of progress though.
“I know that SSS numbers are high, but they are working really hard to get those numbers down,” Stott said. “It went from 62 two years ago to 56 last year. By this time last year, they were at 35; this year they’re at 22. So we are moving in the right direction.”
Corinth Holders High had the next highest reported dropouts at 25, then Clayton at 23 and North Johnston at 16. For the third year, two of the county’s college-prep alternative schools, Early College and Middle College, had no students leave. Alternative school South Campus continues to see the highest percentage of students dropping out with 42.3, or 11 students last year.
“Dropping out is a complex social problem for which there is no easy solution,” said Oliver Johnston, director of student services for Johnston schools.
The majority of students dropping out cited work as the reason, but Stott said each case has its own story and circumstances. He said that in eight cases last year, the student’s family needed the student to work for financial support. In 24 others, Stott said, the students liked having money in their pocket more than they liked attending class.
“These kids are facing some challenges,” Stott said.
“It takes a team to put together a plan, and we’re doing a better job of that, and we’ll continue to get better,” Stott said of the effort to cut dropout rates in the county.
Males are twice as likely as female students to drop out, and the majority of students dropping out were either black or Latino. But at 61, white students were still the highest demographic to leave school.
Retentions, what Johnston calls being held back in school, contributed heavily to students dropping out, Stott said. A small percentage of those dropping out had never needed to repeat a grade, but if students had one or more retentions, they were more likely to quit school altogether, Stott said.
When asked by school board chairman Mike Wooten how to keep kids in the classroom all the way through high school, Stott said relationships are important.
“It’s 100 percent relationships,” Stott said. “It’s about having a person they connect with that they like.”