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Tennessee Plans $25-Million Dropout Effort

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An after-school "drop-in" center that opened this month in a Nashville, Tenn., housing project is the centerpiece of a statewide $25-million dropout-prevention program Gov. Ned McWherter and top education officials plan to present to the state legislature later this year.

The pilot center, staffed by the Nashville school system, will offer homework assistance and counseling to students and a range of parent-education and literacy activities for adults. It represents several features contained in the 15-point plan unveiled Sept. 30 by Governor McWherter and Charles Smith, the state education commissioner.

'One-Room Drop-In School'

Called the "One-Room Drop-In School," the Nashville venture was launched Oct. 3 with $36,000 in state funding. Located in the city's Preston Taylor Homes housing project, the center is staffed by a teacher and an aide from the school district and will remain open on school nights from 4 P.M. to 9:30 P.M.

About 20 people a day--both parents and children--have been coming to the center during its first weeks, according to a spokesman for the state education department.

If the pilot effort is successful, the department has the funding to open another center within the year, the official said.

The Governor's proposed dropout-prevention program also includes2p4initiatives to lower the pupil-teacher ratio in areas with high concentrations of at-risk students, expand the state's pilot alternative-schools program for students with disciplinary problems, and create a state dropout-prevention office.

Slightly more than $10 million is currently set aside in the state education budget for dropout programs, but Governor McWherter and Mr. Smith said that the new proposals, if passed by the legislature, may boost that amount to more than $25 million by next July.

"We have three goals for this program," the Governor said. "First, we want to help students stay in school. Second, we want to help parents create an environment for learning. Finally, we want to give teachers the support they need to educate every student."

Many Elements in Program

The program includes the following key features:

Financial incentives to districts with high concentrations of at-risk students to lower pupil-teacher ratios in the early grades.

Career-awareness programs for at-risk students.

Extended-day school learning programs.

Expansion of the state's in-school-suspension and alternative-schools program, from 115 districts to 132 districts by 1990.

A peer-tutoring program for high-school students--funded at $100,000 in this year's budget--to be called the Governor's Study Partners Corps.

Expansion of the Jobs for Tennessee Graduates vocational program.

Grants totaling $250,000 for model programs to improve parenting skills in families with children judged to be at risk for school failure.

An experimental program, funded at $40,000, to help pregnant teenagers in rural areas learn parenting skills while finishing school.

Earlier identification and intervention efforts for at-risk children.

More elementary-school guidance counselors.

Increased use in programs for at-risk students of teachers who are, through the state's career ladder, on extended contracts.

Creation of a state dropout-prevention office.

Technical training for teachers to increase their ability to deal with the problems of at-risk students.

Computerized tracking of dropout statistics.

The program was developed following a series of six seminars held across the state at which school administrators, parents, teachers, school-board members, and local government officials discussed the dropout problem.

The Governor has appointed George Caudill, head of the education department's Knoxville office, to direct the dropout-prevention program.--kg

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