Fewer students in South Carolina dropped out of public high schools last year, according to a report released Thursday by the state Department of Education, and both Horry and Georgetown counties showed reductions in dropout rates.
In Horry County, the dropout rate was 3.8 percent, an improvement from 4.7 percent in 2009, with 88 fewer students dropping out in 2010, the report said. Georgetown County also saw its dropout rate fall, from 2.1 percent to 1.9 percent, with seven fewer students dropping out last year.
Statewide, the dropout rate was 2.9 percent in 2010, the second consecutive year to mark a decrease in the state's high school dropout numbers. For all S.C. students, 6,265 left school before graduating last year, 800 fewer than in 2009.
"We have to make certain that kids stay focused and engaged from the first day of kindergarten through high school graduation," said S.C. Education Superintendent Mick Zais in a news release. "There is no silver bullet to magically improve high school graduation rates, but by focusing on the needs of students, we can and will make progress."
A dropout is defined as a student who leaves school for any reason without transferring to another school. Dropout rates are different from on-time graduation rates, which track students who graduate within the traditional, four-year timeframe. On-time graduation rates are reported on state report cards, which came out for high schools last spring.
Teal Britton, spokeswoman for Horry County Schools, said the district's smaller dropout number is the result of work being done in several areas to keep students in school.
"It runs the scale, from programs like Connect for at-risk students, to counseling in the schools, where they're developing four-year plans toward graduation," Britton said. "It also involves the work [of people] in attendance with interventions, helping to overcome obstacles that keep kids from attending school."
The Connect program is held at the Academy for the Arts, Science and Technology in Myrtle Beach. Britton said it is intensive in that students make up missed work while accelerating in order to graduate, hopefully on time with their class.
Britton said a single grade or event does not put a student at risk. She said usually it is a combination of things that become overwhelming, such as high absenteeism, poor academic performance, medical problems and social or family factors that have somehow disrupted the student's progress.
"On-time students finish in four years, and if it takes them more than eight consecutive semesters, that counts against you in the on-time graduation rate," Britton said. "This [report] is more of an indicator ... students arrive at their goal but not in the same period of time and not in the same way."
Patti Hammel, executive director for student performance/federal programs in the Georgetown County School District, also gave credit to guidance counselors for keeping students and parents involved in career paths, along with the district's fast-track program in conjunction with Howard Adult Education Center and a credit recovery program, where students who are a few points shy in some areas can make up those standards with online work.
Hammel said the district's ninth-grade academy and technology in the schools are helping to keep students engaged, but that key moves for the district were adding extra teachers prior to this year in English language arts and math in the middle and high schools, and focusing on literacy and reading skills.
"Not being able to read, that's really one of the reasons kids drop out," Hammel said. "If they get very far behind in middle school, they've already made up their mind they aren't going to finish, so we're doing all we can to keep them in school."
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.