Dropping in on the Dropout Prevention Summit

If Las Vegas is really that dumb, would we even be talking about this?

On Nov. 8, nearly 300 people from across the state will convene at UNLV for Nevada’s Statewide Dropout Prevention Summit. The conference, which is being held nearly two weeks after Las Vegas was designated the nation’s “dumbest” city by The Daily Beast, is the second of its kind. Organizers from the Nevada Public Education Foundation hope to bring public awareness to the issue of dropping out and involve community members in solving the problem. It is free and open to the public, but participants must register in advance at NVPEF.org.

“This isn’t an issue just for parents who have kids in the school district,” says Chanda Cook, director of the Southern Nevada region for the Nevada Public Education Foundation. “This is everyone’s issue, and our economic viability is dependent on it. The importance of us having an educated workforce is going to affect each and every one of us, because the youth of today are going to be our caregivers, our doctors, our lawyers, our accountants, our grocery store clerks of the future.”

Nevada’s graduation rate varies depending on source, ranging from 52 percent (according to the U.S. Department of Education) to 71 percent (according to the state of Nevada). “Regardless of what numbers you use, they’re bad,” Cook says.

The Nevada Public Education Foundation, a nonprofit group that works to get communities more involved in schools, is hoping to change that by increasing the value of education in the eyes of the community.

The summit will bring together representatives from social services, the juvenile justice system, educators and members of the business community to talk about the issues facing high school students, the impact that dropouts have on the economy and how to intervene before a student drops out.

Keynote speaker Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, will give a talk on the value of a high school diploma titled, “The best economic stimulus package is a high school diploma.” Dr. Pat Levitt, director of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, will discuss the latest brain research development and how it relates to youth success. And Applied Analysis’ Jeremy Aguero will discuss the social impact of dropouts.

Laura Granier, chairwoman of NPEF, says the summit is a way to encourage community and business involvement with schools.  “With the financial tsunami Nevada is facing, I think the business community is recognizing the connection between education and our economy and how important this is to coming out of the hole we’re in,” Granier says “We’re facing a time where we need to look at where we’re at economically and come up with a strategic plan for the state of how we develop industries and attract new business here. We need an educated work force, and we need a solid public education system to attract businesses and workers and employees for those businesses.”

The goal of Nevada Public Education Foundation is to increase graduation rates by 10 percent by 2013. That may not catapult us into “smartest city” territory, but it’s a start.

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