Former principal encourages educators to fight school dropouts

November 7 2008

Steven Edwards issued a challenge to the teachers and school administrators that filled the conference room at Indiana State University for Sycamore Educators Day.

"Too many people in our profession are deliverers of curriculum, not teachers of children," said the board member of the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University. "If a child cannot learn the way we teach, then we must teach the way the child can learn. Are we willing to modify our teaching'"

Edwards, a former teacher and principal, was the keynote speaker for the annual event that brings ISU alumni back to campus. He also led a breakout session on seven key principles of a principal's role in dropout prevention.

Changes come through people not accepting what others perceive as the norm, he said.

"There's a high failure rate in the classroom because we accept it. There's a high dropout rate in schools because we accept that," he said.

At a high school in Connecticut, there was a 28 percent dropout rate and the school was ranked last of 169 schools when Edwards became principal. He set about changing that, in part by going after the students not at school and bringing them back to the classrooms. By the time he left, the dropout rate had decreased to 1.8 percent.

"Are we willing to fight the fight every day' Are we willing to go after the children," he asked the audience. "I really think we know what to do; it's a choice of whether we do it or not."

Seventy-six percent of Indiana students earned a high school diploma within four years, according to information released by the Indiana Department of Education in early 2008. Although half of the high schools in Indiana graduated more than 80 percent of their senior classes, five percent of Indiana schools graduated less than half of their students within four years.

"Indiana's high school graduation rate is not as high as we would like it to be," said Rebecca Libler, associate dean of the College of Education. "We know it benefits the economy and reduces the crime rate if we keep kids in school. We want them to finish high school and go on to college."

"This is a great day to be renewed and refreshed and challenged," said ISU Provost Jack Maynard in greeting the 300 attendees who planned to attend a variety of workshop sessions.

Others agreed.

Mary Parker of Mooresville, fourth grade teacher and ISU alumna, called the day valuable.

"It gives you the opportunity to see things other people are doing and offers a look at what is going on in the world," she said about attending her third Sycamore Educators Day. "When you're shut up in the classroom, you don't know what's going on out there."

Crystal Eckert, a senior education major from Ferdinand who is doing her student teaching at Sarah Scott Middle School in Terre Haute, called the day important.

"They give you things that can further your education," she said. "Listening to the speakers gives you a new way to teach and think of things."

Sharon Hilbert of West Union, Ill., a retired teacher and ISU alumna, stays involved in classrooms through substitute teaching.

"The speaker was fantastic," she said. "I want to take this back to my school and the principal that I worked with."

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Contact: Rebecca Libler, associate dean for educational research and outreach programs, at (812) 237-2862 or at rlibler@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, assistant director of media relations, Indiana State University, (812) 237-7972 or jsicking@isugw.indstate.edu

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/407166292_9Lcyr-D.jpg

Cutline: Steven Edwards, board member of the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University, spoke during Indiana State University's Sycamore Educators Day on Nov. 1.

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Story Highlights

Steven Edwards, a former teacher and principal, was the keynote speaker for the annual event that brings ISU alumni back to campus.

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