Telstar cuts drop-out rate by more than half

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BETHEL — A joint effort by staff, parents, students and members of the community has changed Telstar High School from having one of the highest drop-out rates in the state nine years ago, to having one of the lower rates now.

And according to state Department of Education figures released Tuesday, Telstar High School has made more progress toward meeting state standards than nearly any other high school in the state.

“We have a very active drop-out committee and Student Assistance Team,” said SAD 44 Superintendent David Murphy, who added that the school put several new measures in place soon after the 8.6 percent drop-out rate was reported for school year 2000-01. The rate for school year 2008-09 had dropped to 3.4 percent.

The school also has several other programs, including the adult education program headed by Director Jeanie Waite, that work closely with the secondary school.

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The goal, said Waite and Principal Dan Hart, is to get students to connect to the school, or something offered at the school that engages them.

The Drop Out Committee, which began about 15 years ago, comprises staff and community members and meets at least annually to identify issues that may be facing students. The process begins in the third grade.

The Student Assistance Team, which began about three years ago, meets monthly to discuss students at risk. The child’s parent will be called in for further discussion, then a mentor from within the school is assigned to the student. Right now, 50 high school students have mentors, Hart said.

“We look at the student holistically, not just academics,” Waite said.

In her program, students can get a second chance to pass a course they didn’t pass previously by enrolling in credit recovery, a program whereby a partnership is developed between the student and the school, complete with contract, so that the course may be taken again.

Hart said other innovations, most developed recently, also attempting to connect with students, include a school-to-work program where some students learn skills by working in the community while attending classes, a community service requirement, growing enrollment in one of the many Region 9 vocational programs, and a chance to take community college courses at the high school.

“We offer multiple ways to be successful. This is a very savvy generation,” Waite said.

The school is too small to include an alternative education program, such as is available at neighboring Mountain Valley and Dirigo high schools.

The various opportunities to find something that the student can feel good about and connected to offered at Telstar can in some ways take the place of such a program, Hart said.

“We’ve made some good progress,” Murphy said.

eadams@sunjournal.com

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