Dropout data gets response Annapolis rate highest in county


Annapolis High School has the worst dropout rate among Anne Arundel County's 12 high schools, according to a state report card issued this week. But Principal Laura Webb says the numbers don't reflect economics or recent progress.

"There are eight public housing communities that feed into Annapolis High, and anyone who knows anything about education knows that economics is a critical component in determining the value of education and the desire to complete the education," she said. "Many of the conditions that affect a school are related to the demographics of the school. Do you think any of the decision-makers consider this?"

Severna Park High School, located in one of the more homogenously wealthy sections of the county, had the lowest dropout rate -- 1.74 percent --, according to the Maryland School Performance Program report card. The school also had the best attendance rate at 96.1 percent.

In contrast, Annapolis High school, where wealthy youngsters from waterfront homes have lockers next to poor teen-agers from the projects, had a dropout rate of 5.53 percent. Still, it was an improvement over the 6.51 percent dropout rate of 1992, Mrs. Webb noted.

The dropout rate was the one area in which Anne Arundel county schools failed to meet the standards set in the Maryland School Performance program. The minimum acceptable rate is 3 percent. In Anne Arundel, the rate was 3.76 percent. Educators say the ideal rate is 1.25 percent.

The key to meeting the 3 percent minimum standard set by the state, Mrs. Webb said, is understanding why students drop out of high school and trying to create programs to help them.

"Students drop out for a variety of reasons -- to go to work, or maybe they're parenting, or maybe there's an incompatibility, they just can't adapt to the school setting," said Mrs. Webb. "We've got a variety of programs in place to help students and we're working to create more."

Annapolis High was one of the first in the county to use the Maryland's Tomorrow program, which provides smaller classes and more individual attention for students found to be at risk of dropping out, she said.

In addition, a group called Concerned Black Males volunteers time as role models for students at the school, and a local business provides tutors in math and science who work with students during lunch periods.

"And this year we have a new program -- the Navy Junior ROTC program -- to focus students who are looking for a career, who need to work," she said. "This way they can be the first in line to go into the military and get jobs and still get their schooling."

Glen Burnie High School -- which had the second highest dropout rate among county schools for 1993 -- also uses the Maryland's Tomorrow Program to encourage students to stay in school.

Although the rate of 5.18 percent is high, principal Midgie Sledge says it has improved considerably over the 1992 rate of 7.9 percent, and the dropout rates in previous years.

"At one point we had a tremendously high dropout rate," Mrs. Sledge said. "We have improved dramatically, but it's still nowhere near where I'd like to see it. Part of the problem is that the kids get themselves in a bind by not coming to school or not being made to go to school, and then they drop out."

Mrs. Sledge credits a program started last spring with helping to improve the 1993 dropout rate.

"We now have Saturday school," she said. "Our teachers volunteer their time, and that's wonderful. We have two sessions: academic remediation and a session on goal-setting. It's a program for those students who used to be suspended for truancy, cutting class, being late to class. Now, they're not missing school. They're staying successful academically. I'm hoping to see an even larger reduction in our dropout rate next year."

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