Thomasville City Schools experienced a slight decrease in its dropout rate last year.

According to statistics released from the Department of Public Instruction, 40 TCS students dropped out of school in 2011-12, marking the first decline in the system's dropout rate in three years. The number of dropouts had increased the previous two school years after falling below the 5 percent mark in 2009-10. TCS reported 42 dropouts (5.69 percent) in 2010-11.

"Obviously, we don't want any and we'll continue to work hard on that," TCS Superintendent Keith Tobin said. "The more we can save the better off we'll be for our children. We don't want any but when you're moving in the right direction that's what we want."

After reaching a five-year high in 2007-08 with 52 dropouts (6.63 percent), TCS experienced a drastic decrease the following year, as the number fell to 37 (4.93 percent). In an effort to address dropouts, TCS implemented several programs to help students stay in school. SOAR is an after-school program that enables students who have trouble achieving success in a traditional school setting earn credits in the afternoon. The Alternative Learning Center provides for students with disciplinary issues a venue off campus to stay in school and work toward graduation.  

"We have some students who work during the day or some are parents, and the SOAR program is a way for them to get their diploma without dropping out," said THS Principal Deboy Beamon. "This is just another opportunity to keep those kids in school."

One of the keys to prevent students from dropping out, Beamon said, is to identify them before they fall too far behind. Too often, students drop out when their only a few credits short of graduation.

"Most of these kids are close," Beamon said. "I had one girl drop out who only needed one credit to graduate."   

THS added Joyce Vaughn, a dropout prevention specialist, this year to help identify students who may be tailing off. Vaughn's job is to actually go to student's home if they miss a certain number of days to try and create a new culture of wanting to graduate. According to DPI statistics, poor attendance accounts for more than 40 percent of dropouts.  

"There are a lot of pieces and parts as to why kids aren't coming to school," said Beamon. "It's not just because they don't want to come, they have other issues. We want to know why the kids aren't coming to school. We need to figure out a way to catch these kids before they're too far gone. If you miss 10 days in a math class, you're done."

THS' freshman academy has played a pivotal role in keeping incoming ninth graders on track in the classroom.

"Once those kids get behind, they don't see any way of catching up," Beamon said. "If I can keep the freshmen on track until they mature and understand this isn't middle school, usually by their sophomore year, the light comes on. A lot of time, when the light comes on, they're too far behind and they stop coming. It's like a revolving door and we lose them. Sometimes we have freshmen who don't pass any classes first semester. There's no way you're graduating on time or with your peers."

Davidson County Schools reported a fifth straight year of decreasing dropouts last year with 191 (2.99 percent). DCS' dropout rate has been cut almost in half since 2007-08 when it registered 5.96 percent.

"We put a lot of effort into trying to keep the dropout rate low," said DCS Superintendent Dr. Fred Mock. "I believe this is the lowest rate we've had since I've been superintendent. We've had an improvement in our dropout rate and we hope the trend continues."

The dropout rate dropped by 3.01 percent statewide, as the number of students who quit school fell from 15,342 in 2010-11 to 13,488 last year.

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or