Local Dropout Prevention and Recovery Innovation Zone Grant


Staff Report

WILLIAMSON – Change for the sake of change is never good. However, change that is designed to produce positive results is always welcome.

Three Mingo County Schools are in the process of implementing several changes within their schools with the long-term goal of improving attendance and graduation rates for their students thanks to a $285,000 Innovation Zone Grant awarded to Mingo County Schools.

Mingo County’s grant, “E3: Engage, Experience, Educate”, is a Local Dropout Prevention and Recovery Innovation Zone Grant awarded to Mingo County Schools by the West Virginia Department of Education. The purpose of the grant is to help increase attendance, to reduce dropout rates, and to improve high school graduation rates for students at Burch Middle School, Matewan Pre-K-8 School and Mingo Central Comprehensive High School.

These schools were targeted due to data showing a high proportion of students at Burch Middle School and Matewan Pre-K-8 placed at the highest risk for potentially dropping out of school before graduation from Mingo Central Comprehensive High School. The latest available data shows the graduation rate for Mingo County is 82.4 percent with a 79.78 percent rate for Mingo Central.

Through the grant, the county will be able to provide a full time social worker for the next two years. Working with students and families in the three grant schools to assist in removing barriers to consistent school attendance, the social worker will help to facilitate academic supports for students who are at risk of dropping out which is the focus of this grant. Vicki Fields, the new grant funded social worker, is already working with students and administrators at the schools to make a positive impact on improving student attendance. Fields says that she has already, in the short time she has been in the new position, seen the value of such a position to the students in these schools.

“I see such a need to have someone helping parents and schools to keep children in school”, said Fields. “I have already made numerous home visits as well as met with many students and, as a result, I have been able to assist them with some things that were keeping them from coming to school. It’s amazing what we’ve been able to help with already.”

“Thanks to the grant funding we can now provide the social work services which is greatly needed for our students” said Drema Dempsey, Director of Student Services and Attendance for Mingo County Schools.

The grant also provides for a “re-imagining of time” within the school day in order to provide opportunities for student enrichment, support for non-cognitive student skill development, and activities encouraging students to explore career aspirations and to graduate. Regional Education Service Agency 2 Director Dr. Dee Cockrille, who assisted the county in developing the grant, says the re-imagined time within the school schedule opens opportunities for structured learning supports and activities that did not exist within the schools previously.

“ ‘Reimagining Time’ is an initiative that emphasizes school staffs and community members working together to allow the school to utilize time within their school day differently in order to provide academic enrichment and time for job embedded professional learning and student focused planning.” According to Dr. Cockrille, “it’s basically using existing time differently to meet student and teacher needs.”

“We have used the “Re-imagined Time” concept this year within our daily schedule” says Burch Middle School Principal Leah Wireman. “As a result, our school counselor now meets with all 8th grade students every week and, as a result, student interventions are put in place as needed for those students.”

The grant also allows the school administrative and teaching staffs to have more input into targeting their own professional development needs and determining how best to meet those needs.

“As part of the grant activities, our leadership team was able to meet twice over the summer to assess our needs and plan for the 2015-2016 school year” said Wireman. “Student achievement and student attendance were always the top priority.”

Mingo County Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Bobbera says that while there has been a need for some minor adjustments to the school schedules throughout all of the Mingo Central Attendance Area in order to accommodate the changes brought about by the grant, ultimately, it will be worth it as they lead to reaching the goal of all students graduating and being college and/or workplace ready.

“This is several hands working together” said Bobbera. “The West Virginia Department of Education, RESA II, our central office and the county schools to support the needs of our students. This is a tremendous opportunity for Mingo County and we appreciate the efforts of all.”

The West Virginia State Legislature created Innovation Zone Grants as a way for schools to implement promising innovations that can be supported by research. They can address a range of topics from how to restructure time, configure staff, and/or modify school-wide programs to more specific ideas that may relate to a particular grade or content level. The legislature committed $2.2 million dollars to the IZ Grants which county school boards competed in a competitive grant process to be awarded monies from that amount for their specific grant proposals.

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