Fulton County Schools lowered its dropout rate by 44% in the 2020 school year, the Board of Education heard during its Nov. 10 work session. Now the district aims to reduce student absences, replacing a reactive policy with proactive measures.

“This means that 531 students did not step away from their future. They stepped into it,” said Cliff Jones, FCS chief academic officer of the dropout rate.

He said FCS created a dashboard and communication process to identify potential student dropouts early on. Graduation coaches at middle and high schools, who Jones said are well-positioned to know the students at risk, to meet the students and involve family, guardians and community support.

 A dropout team was formed to use the data and training for the prevention system.

“For any student who wants to step away from school, we ask that they meet with the principal before that happens,” Jones said.

Graduation rates also decreased for Fulton County students, which dipped to 85.4% for the entire district from 87.2% in 2019. That was 1.6% higher than the statewide 2020 graduation rate.

In Sandy Springs, North Springs High saw its graduation rate drop 1.2% to 91.9%, while Riverwood International Charter School’s graduation rate fell by 1.8% to 89.9%.

Jones blamed the pandemic in part for the decline.

Attendance policy changes

Jones said the FCS attendance policy is based on a measure of the percentage of students with 90% attendance or higher. With 178 instructional days, the remaining 10% equals 18 days. Four months in the school calendar have 18 instructional days. A student could miss an entire month of school and not be considered at risk of chronic absenteeism.

The new policy would create four categories based on absentee percentage rates for a student, and start with preventative interventions.

  • Satisfactory: 0-4% absent rate
  • At Risk: 5-9% absent rate, preventative interventions
  • Chronic Absent: 10-19% absent rate, early interventions
  • Severe Chronic Absent: 20%+ absentee rate, intensive interventions

Current policy focuses on truancy, with compliance and legal solutions sought. Only unexcused absences are counted. The new policy addresses chronic absenteeism and counts all absences.

“We really focus on the academic impact of missing school and we use positive school and community-based strategies to intervene on behalf of those students to make sure that they do engage, feel safe and come to school,” Jones said.

“I think that this policy is taking a step in the right direction for making sure we can provide those interventions early on in a lot of times, particularly students who might be doing well or they’re on the bubble,” school board President Julia Bernath said.

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.