Finding ways to reduce the territory's high student dropout rate will be priority number one for V.I. Education officials during a daylong conference scheduled for Feb. 9 at UVI's St. Thomas campus.
According to data collected in 2006-2007, about 13.8 percent of 16 to 19 year olds in the territory were dropouts, compared to about 7 percent nationwide, a recent Education release revealed.
"The economic and social consequences of leaving school without a high school diploma have a profound impact on students and society,” Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry said in the release.
During a recent interview, Terry explained the conference will look at what is causing students to drop out, and whether the local education system makes it easy for them to do so. Participants will look at what laws need to be strengthened, and from there put together recommendations on how to move forward, she said.
Representatives from key government agencies, such as the Labor Department, Human Services and Board of Education will also be on hand to discuss how they could better interact with Education to boost retention and how they can work with students once they drop out of school, she said.
The featured speaker at the conference will be Russell Rumberger, an education professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Rumberger is an expert on the dropout issue and will be presenting a set of recommendations from the U.S. Department of Education's newly published Dropout Prevention Practice Guide, according to the release.
"It's definitely going to be a working day," Terry said. "We also want to talk to some students that have dropped out, show what they were thinking and what we need to do to make the conditions better for them."
The territory also has a unique challenge in that it is difficult to track students that have moved off island or transferred, she explained, adding that once a student isn't seen in the public K-12 system anymore, they are considered a dropout.
"So, we definitely need a better system," Terry said. While Education will soon be applying for some federal funds to help in the collection of such data -- which will track students across the territory from elementary school on up to college -- the upcoming conference will help to pinpoint how local agencies and educational institutions can start doing it on their own.
"There are early warning signs that the students exhibit early on," Terry said. "If we don't have a way to capture that data, we don't have a way to intercede on their behalf."