When she took over as the attendance officer 16 years ago, Shelley Cantrell never thought she would one day be asked if it were possible to bring dropout levels down to zero in the Pickens school system.
But after wrapping up the past academic year with a mere 14 dropouts from a student population of 4,345, it will be hard to make much further progress without eliminating the problem completely.
“Problems are opportunities. I always try to set the goal high,” Cantrell said. “Zero dropouts is possible. Last year we had a couple of months with no dropouts, and that was something I never thought I would see when I started this 16 years ago.”
But zero dropouts, while possible, won’t come easily, as at least two of the 14 who quit school last year didn’t have much choice. One was expelled and one incarcerated, according to the reasons listed on the statistics provided each month to the school board by Cantrell.
Considering that the high drop out rate in Pickens County schools was a regular subject of jokes less than a decade ago, having the number whittled down to 14 last year is remarkable.
Last year’s total 14 more than cut in half the 37 who elected to leave school in the previous (2009-2010) academic year. Each of the past five years, the schools have seen more students follow the motto, “School’s in, don’t be out” with drop out numbers dropping in solid steps from a record number of 84 in the 2005-2006 year down to the 14 of last year.
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