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Putnam sees fewer ninth-grade dropouts

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Last year, Putnam County had a significantly lower number of ninth graders drop out of school compared to years past, Superintendent Chuck Hatfield told school-board members Monday night.

During the 2011-2012 school year, seven students in the ninth grade quit school compared to 37 during the 2009-2010 year, according to Hatfield.

In West Virginia, around 2.6 percent of ninth graders dropped out last year compared to Putnam's 1.1 percent, Hatfield said. Information was collected using the West Virginia Education Information System, according to Penny Fisher, assistant superintendent of pupil services.  

"That's just about as good as it gets ... We've been working real hard, and we're starting to see results," Hatfield said.

The county's decline in dropouts has been a collaborative effort. School, county and state officials have all contributed with truancy and drug-diversion programs, among other things, he said.

Also, several years ago, schools in Putnam began a "transition to high school" program that provides monitoring and support for ninth-grade students.

"Within 4-1/2 weeks [of school] if [students] have a failing grade, we'll set up tutoring or after-school help," said Fisher. "We want to catch them before they fall too far in the hole."

This year, the program will be offered for rising sixth graders, she said.

In other business, Josh Woodall, the father of a rising seventh-grade student at Poca Middle School, told board members he was upset the school had canceled its tennis program.

Hatfield said after the meeting he hadn't been informed about the school's tennis program and would look into the issue.

When contacted by telephone after the meeting, Poca Principal C.D. Caldwell said players had been informed last week there wouldn't be a team because only five other schools would commit to playing Poca.

Last spring, the school switched from the Mid Valley to the Black Diamond athletic conference to compete with schools "more our size," Caldwell said.

"I didn't want to give up tennis, it had been a bright spot for us, but when you can't find people to play you ... we couldn't get cooperation from schools close to us to play us -- that happens," he said.

Last year, the boys' tennis team went undefeated, according to Caldwell. He said that could have played a part in why some teams don't want to compete against Poca.

At the meeting, Woodall also questioned the fairness of making Poca Middle students choose between playing in the band and taking a Spanish language class for high-school credit.

Caldwell said this year would be the first time incoming sixth graders would be faced with the decision of deciding between the two.

"Truthfully, that's the way it should work and it hadn't been working at our school, and we need to meet compliance with certain state policies," Caldwell said.

Caldwell said the problem boils down to scheduling issues between band and Spanish, time constraints and following a curriculum roadmap that other middle schools are required to follow.

Current seventh- and eighth-grade students can continue participating in both, as the policy will be phased in and begin to affect this year's sixth graders.

Also at the meeting, Hatfield presented Mike Erwin, principal of the Putnam County Career and Technical Center and Jonathan Pitzer, vice principal, with a trophy after the school was named the best in the state at a career and technical schools conference last month.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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