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Charlotte region dropout rates down last year

About 3,200 fewer kids dropped out of North Carolina public schools in the 2008-2009 school year than the previous one. That's according to a state report released yesterday. Dropout rates were down last year in nearly all school districts across the Charlotte region. Last year's statewide dropout rate was 4.27 percent, the lowest on record. In CMS, the dropout rate went from 5.91 percent in the 2007-2008 school year to 4.99 percent last year. In a statement, Superintendent Peter Gorman says one factor in the decrease may be that CMS significantly reduced the number of long-term suspensions. Instead, CMS sent more of its most troubled students to alternative programs. Joni Trobich, the head of the Mecklenburg Parent Teacher Association Council, is glad to hear the news, but: "I take all those figures with a grain of salt until I know exactly how they were calculated," says Trobich. Both Trobich and state education officials say a more accurate number to look at to measure a district's success is the graduation rate. At CMS, that rate was 66.1 percent last year. As for dropout rates, they also fell at districts in surrounding counties. In Cabarrus County, it was 4.27 percent, while it was 3.01 percent in Union County. Iredell-Statesville Schools saw one of the bigger improvements in the region. Last year, the rate slipped to 2.96 percent. District spokeswoman Dawn Creason says that's a far cry from dropout rates hovering around 10 percent a decade earlier. Creason credits programs that target at-risk students like one that offers an alternative to suspensions. "It is just like a time out from their regular school setting, but they're not losing any attendance credit," explains Creason. "Nine times out of ten that's the reason a kid drops out anyway - they get so far behind that they can no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel." Stanly County Schools was one of a few districts in the state that saw its dropout rates increase. It went from a dropout rate of 4.62 percent to 5.55 percent. The state Department of Public Instruction's report also tracks school crime and violence. Statewide the number of incidents fell to 7.59 incidents per 1,000 students. But in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools the rate increased from 8.7 incidents per 1,000 students to 9.8. Those incidents include anything from drug and alcohol possession to serious assault.