‘A’ for Effort in Reducing Dropout Rate


In some respects, it has hardly been the best of years for Cleveland High School in Reseda and Verdugo Hills High School in Tujunga. In February, for example, Cleveland High was stunned by the death of student Rocio Delgado, killed by a stray bullet as she walked home from school. It is with pleasure that we note a bit of good news for these two schools. Since 1990, they have recorded the greatest and steadiest reduction in dropout rates among the Valley-based schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. That’s an accomplishment worth noting.

Only 35% of Verdugo Hills High students live in the immediate area. Because the school is so large, however, Verdugo Hills receives students who are brought in from 20 overcrowded high schools in central, east and South-Central Los Angeles. These students must rise as early as 5 a.m. to get to school on time. Principal Gary Turner greets the buses every morning, and eight parents of former Verdugo High students ride them each day, talking to the students and helping them with problems. Most students are encouraged to attend a two- or four-year college. Parents who can’t get to the school can monitor homework assignments by telephone by punching in a teacher code. That and similar measures appear to be working. Verdugo High’s dropout rate has declined from 49.3% to 35.2%, the second-best drop among Los Angeles Unified schools in the Valley.

The greatest improvement was found at Cleveland High, where a magnet program in the humanities, designed for average students, has spurred the interest of those who might not otherwise strive for academic excellence. But it has also helped keep students in school. The one-year dropout rate for students in the Cleveland High magnet, according to the most recent data available, was an impressive 1.95%.


The dramatic improvement was recorded by Cleveland’s regular pupils, despite a population shift in recent years to Latino students with limited English skills. Overall, Cleveland High’s dropout rate has fallen from 45.3% to 28.1%.

Some credit goes to student committees composed of leaders representing everything from gangs to student government bodies that have been credited with reducing tensions and keeping trouble off the school grounds.

Perhaps the biggest factor, however, has been the assignment of a counselor who devotes all of her time to calling and visiting the homes of students who are absent, with a greater emphasis on those who fail to return to school after a day or two.

Both schools still have a serious dropout problem, but their success in combatting it stands as an example for the rest of the district.