Coaches to curb St. John dropouts

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Staff Reporter

RESERVE – In an effort to curtail the district’s relatively high dropout rate, the St. John the Baptist Parish School Board last week approved the new job description of graduation coach, a position designed to identify at-risk students early on and counsel them to stay in school. The job description was approved as part of a one-year pilot program.

East St. John High School Principal Patricia Triche, said the state has strongly encouraged high schools to hire dropout prevention specialists to utilize the state’s dropout early warning system (DEWS) to identify and coach at-risk students beginning in ninth grade. She added that traditional counselors’ duties have been greatly expanded and increased since the state implemented a five-year plan in 2006 and that many of their responsibilities involved attending to students who are already in trouble, such as serving on truancy panels, truancy court and the in-school suspension counsel.

“Right now, we are responding to kids who are already past the point of no return,” she said, adding that more than 200 students at ESJ have been identified as being at risk within the last year. “We’re catching them on the way out. This might not work, but we have to start somewhere.”

Triche said the graduation coach position would be funded by part of a $240,000 school improvement grant the school has received, which prompted a few board members to question the sense in approving a job description that might only be around for a year.

“If I had a master’s degree in this field, I don’t think I’d apply for this job if I knew it would come to a screeching halt in a year,” said Board Member Russ Wise, who unsuccessfully motioned to table the issue until the board could review it more thoroughly.

Wise and Board Members Matthew Ory and Patrick Sanders also expressed concern that the position might duplicate too many of the duties of a traditional counselor. Wise made a substitute motion to table to issue that narrowly fell short with a 5-5 vote (one member was absent). But the subsequent motion to approve the position as a pilot program passed easily with Wise alone in his opposition, 9-1.

 Superintendent Courtney Millet supported the new job description. “We have a very high dropout rate when you compare it to the surrounding districts and to the state,” she said. “And it’s something we need to focus on. The DEWS early warning system allows us to identify those (at-risk) students immediately.”

 Qualifications for graduation coach include a master’s degree in counseling and three years experience.