County has state's highest dropout rate

Mohave County had the highest overall dropout rate in the state, 10.8 percent, during 1999-2000, according to the Arizona Department of Education.

One has to look only as far as the Colorado River Union High School District, which includes River Valley High and Mohave High, to find the largest part of the problem.

That district had an overall dropout rate of 23.15 percent for 1999-2000, superintendent Monty Silk said.

The figures of 28.7 percent for Mohave High and 17.6 percent at River Valley High are well above the statewide high school dropout rate of 11.1 percent.

"It's not something we can cover up," Silk said.

"We have to deal with it."

The state determines dropout rates by calculating the percentage of a school's students who were enrolled at any given time during the school year but not at the end of the school year and who did not transfer, graduate or die.

By state statute, a student may not drop out of school until age 16, said Mike File, who is in his fifth year as superintendent of schools in Mohave County.

"I continue to attribute our dropout rate to the transient nature of our county," File said.

"Being close to California, Nevada and the river cities, a tremendous number of students come in during the winter months, then move back to where they came from (before the end of the school year) and the parents do not come in and formally withdraw their child.

"With our system, if you don't get any information on a student for 10 days, he or she is counted as a dropout."

A new accountability system that was part of Proposition 301, passed in November to give pay raises to teachers, will permit tracking of students and should show Mohave County's dropout rate is not as astronomical as it seems, File said.

The Colorado River Union High School District has a 35 percent turnover rate in students annually, said Silk, now in his third year as superintendent.

The dropout rate falls sharply among students who stay two years or more, he said.

"I was told the dropout rate for our district five years ago was 40 percent," Silk said.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Lake Havasu High School had a dropout rate of just 2.9 percent for 1999-2000, Lake Havasu Unified School District Joe Meli said.

"We've had a program in place for the last six or seven years in which community groups and teachers come in and work with the students," Meli said.

"We had a 9.7 percent dropout rate when it began and the rate has come down every year since then."

Kingman High School's dropout rate was 7.9 percent for 1999-2000, said Mike Ford, formerly superintendent of the Mohave Union High School District and now superintendent of the Kingman Unified School District.

Dropout numbers were not available for the Colorado City Unified School District, which has 40-50 high school students, superintendent Alvin Barlow said.

"I know we had a fairly high rate and I questioned the state on the validity of its numbers," Barlow said.

"A student might take only band or driver's education or they might attend a charter school.

The student was enrolled for that one class and may have taken it the previous semester, so the student might not be enrolled when the state picked a date for its calculations and that has a tendency to increase the dropout rate."