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Decline in Dropout Rate Credited to 4-Year Effort : State report: Oxnard improves dramatically, but in Ventura the number of students who quit reportedly doubled.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oxnard education officials said Monday that a state Department of Education report showing a dramatic decline in high school dropout rates is an encouraging result of a four-year effort by parents, educators and community groups aimed at keeping students in school.

But in the Ventura Unified School District, where, according to the report, the dropout rate has more than doubled in the last three years, administrators questioned the accuracy of the state’s figures.

In the Oxnard Union High School District, the number of dropouts decreased dramatically from 30.1% in 1986 to 7.8% in 1989. The decline was so marked that the Oxnard district was one of two in California singled out Monday by state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig as exemplary for its efforts to keep potential dropouts enrolled.

“It’s been a big deal in our district,” said a delighted Oxnard Union High Superintendent Bob Carter.

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For the past four years, a special committee of principals, parents, students and local groups, including the NAACP and the Assn. of Mexican-American Educators, has set up programs to keep kids in school, he said. Improvements include a full-time psychiatrist on each campus and community workers to call parents when their children miss school.

Countywide, the report released today shows a 29.9% decrease in the number of high school dropouts since 1986, compared with an 18% drop statewide. About one in five students dropped out statewide in 1989, while in Ventura County the rate was about half that, 11.5%.

The state defines a dropout as a student who has been absent for 45 days or more with no record of enrollment in another school or continuation program.

Honig and Oxnard officials also credited Oxnard’s gains to money from a state program designed to motivate students. The district received a total of $80,000 from the Maintenance and Motivation Program, which was used to hire outreach consultants and fund programs for “at risk” students.

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Oxnard is one of only two high school districts in Ventura County, and 41 districts statewide, to receive money from the program, said Susie Lange, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education. The other county district, the Santa Paula Union High School District, receives money under a joint application with the Santa Paula Elementary School District, officials said.

In the Santa Paula high school district, however, dropout rates increased from 20.9% for the class of 1988 to 28.4% the following year, the report said.

While the report has encouraging news for Oxnard school officials, the number of dropouts it shows for Ventura schools has given officials “a real sense of concern,” said Jeffrey Davies, director of Evaluation and Informational Services for the Ventura district.

The number of dropouts in Ventura schools more than doubled between 1986 and 1989, from 9.4% to 19.5%, according to the report.

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“We know that cannot be the case,” Davies said. “We don’t think it is accurate. We don’t think it has increased dramatically.”

According to the district’s own tally, the annual dropout rate has been in the 6% to 7% range, he said.

Davies also questioned the state’s figures from 1986, which state officials acknowledge are estimates.

Despite questions over the report’s accuracy, however, Ventura officials are taking the report seriously, Davies said. The district’s three high school principals, Assistant Supt. of Educational Services Joseph Spirito and Davies met Monday to discuss the figures, Davies said.

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The district will attempt over the next three weeks to assess the accuracy of the report, Davies said. As part of its efforts, officials will attempt to track the 262 students that the state said dropped out in 1989 to find out whether they in fact dropped out altogether or enrolled elsewhere.

“We’ll take a more aggressive stance toward pursuing them and find out where they did go,” Davies said.

Other districts that show significant changes in the dropout rate include the 1,350-student Oak Park Unified School District, which had a dropout rate of 6.8% in 1986, but only 2% in 1989.

Oak Park officials said only one student dropped out of Oak Park High School’s 90-person senior class last year.

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The Moorpark Unified School District cut its dropout rate nearly in half, from 30.5% in 1986 to 15.8% last year.

In the Simi Valley Unified School District, the 1989 dropout rate of 14.3% is still well below the state average, but the number has increased a third over 1986 figures, the report showed.

“We haven’t determined the cause of the problem, and we’re not going to be helped next year with the budget cuts,” said Allan Jacobs, associate superintendent of Instructional and Educational Services in the district.

The Simi Valley district faces an $8.5-million projected deficit in the next school year. Because of budget cuts, the student-to-counselor ratio will increase next year from 600 to 750 students per counselor, Jacobs said.

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Jacobs said the district has special programs to provide alternatives to at-risk students, including independent study, an adult school program and a program for pregnant minors.

But in a few cases, even with school officials, teachers, parents and counselors working to keep a student in school, it is not enough, Jacobs said.

“There are all kinds of things we’re working on,” Jacobs said. “But the way it is today, when a kid decides to leave school there isn’t much you can do about it . . . If they decide they’re going to go somewhere else, they go.”

State DROPOUT RATE: The California rate falls to 20.4%. A3

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SCHOOL DROPOUT RATES

Class of Class of Class of % Change School district 1986* 1988 1989 since ’86 Conejo Valley Unified 4.7 7.3 4.9 +4.3 Fillmore Unified 11.3 14.5 14.6 +29.2 Moorpark Unified 30.5 23.5 15.8 -48.2 Oak Park Unified 6.8 3.1 2.0 -70.6 Ojai Unified 19.7 17.0 14.4 -26.9 Oxnard Union High 30.1 17.0 7.8 -74.1 Santa Paula Union High 27.7 20.9 28.4 +2.5 Simi Valley Unified 10.6 10.0 14.3 +34.9 Ventura Unified 9.4 14.9 19.5 +107.5 COUNTYWIDE TOTALS 16.4 13.3 11.5 -29.9

Number of School district Dropouts Conejo Valley Unified 87 Fillmore Unified 35 Moorpark Unified 33 Oak Park Unified 2 Ojai Unified 37 Oxnard Union High 229 Santa Paula Union High 96 Simi Valley Unified 244 Ventura Unified 262 COUNTYWIDE TOTALS 1,025

* Estimated

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