Dropout Prevention Summit held at Belleview Biltmore

01/12/09 Seán Kinane
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Each year, 1 million American high school students drop out of school, according to America's Promise Alliance. This week at Pinellas County’s historic Belleview Biltmore hotel, dozens of educators and public servants are meeting to share strategies on high school dropout prevention.

America’s Promise Alliance was founded by Gen. Colin Powell and forms partnerships “committed to seeing that children experience the fundamental resources they need to succeed,” according to its website. High school students Elizabeth Soto and Mia Shane opened the Florida America’s Promise Summit by singing the National Anthem, then Soto told how she turned her life around from considering dropping out to becoming a successful student at Pathways Academy in Flagler County.

The summit’s theme is “navigating the seas to success: stay the course to graduation.” Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Julie Janssen said that a key to keeping students, like Soto, in school could be to reduce the number of standards required for students to master.

Former panhandle state Rep. Curtis Richardson tied Florida’s dropout rate to the state’s incarceration rate. Even as Florida lawmakers slash $500 million from the education budget, Richardson noted that the state continues to spend on its more than 100,000 inmates. Richardson said that in some places of the state, the “prison-industrial complex” drives the economy, especially in rural north Florida counties.

Another group making the connection between incarceration rates and dropout rates is the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation, which brought the Choice Bus to the conference. The founder and president, Shelley Stewart gave a tour of the bus, which includes a mock jail cell complete with bars and a locking door.

Trina Condo is director of the Department of Education’s Florida Education and Training Placement Information Program. Condo said the dropout rate has a serious impact on the state’s economy and on individual earning.

Several of the presenters stressed community involvement with schools as a tool to lower dropout rates, including Lois Gracey, state director of Communities in Schools of Florida.

The Florida America’s Promise Summit continues through Tuesday and the 2009 Effective Strategies Institute on Dropout Prevention continues through Friday at the Belleview Biltmore in Belleair.

The Florida America’s Promise Summit

America’s Promise Alliance

National Dropout Prevention Centers

Pinellas County Schools

Florida Education and Training Placement Information Program

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