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Dropout Rates Up Significantly in Madison County

By Natalie Potts
By npotts@wbbjtv.com

JACKSON, Tenn.- The Tennessee Department of Education reported that Tennessee is one just seven other states seeing graduation rates doubling the national's average, Monday.

The Jackson-Madison County School System was below the state and national average in attendance and overall graduation just five years ago.

"Our young people are starting to realize that education is the way to advance in life," said parent Kenneth Austin. "It's a good thing."

Doctor Portia Hegmon, JMCSS Student Services Supervisor told WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News that the number of students attending class and graduating high school has increased in every high school in Jackson-Madison County with the average at 95 percent.

"We are actually above the state average," said Dr. Hegmon. "When we talk to students the main thing we say is education is the doorway to your future."

Jackson Central-Merry Academy has increased their numbers by more than 30 percent. In 2008, the school's overall graduation rate was below the state and national average at 57 percent. With the help of graduation counselors and drop out prevention specialists the overall dropout rate for JCM in 2012 is at 91.3 percent.

Although graduation numbers have increased, Dr. Hegmon said drop out rates have increased with a number of students who are struggling to get an education. Most recent reports show that students are three times more likely to drop out now than two years ago.

The dropout rate for JMCSS is up from 1.3 percent in 2011 to 4.3 percent in 2012.

"Those are people we see numbers but those are really flesh and blood young people who need an education, so when we can't get them back, it's a loss," said Dr. Hegmon. "Outside forces like the economy many students drop out to help their family live, to make money."

School officials said the challenges that students now face are greater than they were 5-10 years ago. Although teen pregnancy rates are down, there are more than 30 students currently struggling with homelessness.

"When I first started teaching two parent families were the norm now we have a lot of single parent families," said Dr. Hegmon.

JMCSS does offer its at-risk students the opportunity to participate in drop out prevention programs with counselors who work to help students get an education even after they have left the classroom.

"There are a lot of students that are struggling, especially when the electricity is being shut off, they feel that pain and they want their parents to be able to have electricity," said Jeanette Henning, Drop out Prevention Specialist. "I just recently spoke with a young lady and she informed me she wanted to go to school and really loved school, 'I can do my work,' she says, 'but right now my mother is going through a hard time'."

According to the reports Asian, African American and Hispanic students showed the most improvement in the Jackson-Madison County School District.
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