July 23rd, 2012

Dothan City Schools are breathing new life into the maxim that it takes a village to raise a child.

In just two years, Dothan’s high school dropout rate went from 18 percent to .49 percent.  That’s right, .49 percent – or just three dropouts.

Dothan’s School Improvement Specialist Julie Mullins-Turner, better known as the “dropout lady”, worked with the community, schools, and students to create a system that makes it virtually impossible for a student to drop out of high school.

Team APP – Blueprints Coordinator Hannah Selles, AmeriCorps*VISTA J.T. Moore, and interns Chris Doty, Ashley Rhea, and Gabriela Sherrod – recently visited with Julie in her Dothan office.

So how does Dothan do it?  By wearing the students down. Instead of routinely approving dropout decisions, Dothan schools now require that students meet several times with school administrators and counselors, take a practice GED, and write three essays describing their future plans before letting them withdraw from school.

“You have to meet [the kids] at their level. You have to believe in them. You have to build a relationship with them,” said Julie.

So what would it take to recreate Dothan’s success slashing the dropout rate? According to Julie, it will take two key elements:

1. Passion. A passion for kids and a desire for change must be at the center of any effort to reduce the dropout rate.

2. Attention to Details. The schools’ system of accountability must ensure that no child falls through the cracks.

Dedicated leaders like Julie Mullins-Turner gave Hannah reason to be optimistic. “Maybe someday there will be Dropout Ladies all over Alabama,” she said.