A new study shows schools are increasingly becoming "dropout factories" where a large percentage of freshmen don't make it to their senior year, and rural school districts in the south are especially at risk.
The dropout rate in Florida has increased in recent years, but Gadsden County is seeing just the opposite. One of the reasons why is that school officials formed a task force to aggressively seek out kids who've dropped out and get them back in class.
Sixteen-year-old Vernard Safford was out of school for a year and a half. He says in that time he got into a lot of trouble hanging out and eventually getting a felony charge, but decided to change his life and head back to school.
Vernard Safford said, "I dropped out because the work was getting harder, and when I came out here Dr. Green helped me get in my right grade."
A recent report shows students in large cities or high poverty rural areas drop out of school more than any other group. School officials say those students face more challenges than their peers.
Superintendent Reginald James said, "The reason the students are dropping out is because Florida has a high dropout, and such a low grade rate. Primarily, the students are struggling with FCAT, and they've shown that many times, and it's not affecting all students. It's affecting black students and that's what it's showing."
The district has been able to turn things around forming alternative schools, like Carter Paramore's Hope Academy, for at risk or low performing students and it's already paying off.
Dr. Willie Green said, "I believe about 80 percent would be dropouts were it not for a program like this. Many of them were several grades behind. They were in constant trouble in school being suspended and expelled falling further and further in reading and mathematics.”
School officials say more than 300 kids are currently enrolled at Carter Paramore Academy. The superintendent says the districts dropout rate has decline from six to four point nine percent in the last year.
Hundreds of students have returned back to the district. Some are enrolled at Carter Paramore and Gadsden Technical Institute where they get either a diploma or learn a professional trade.