Friday, July 7, 2000 | 10:20 a.m.
Family problems are a key cause of the Clark County School District's dropout rate, according to a survey of the district's educators.
Initiated by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., the survey addresses issues related to the district's dropout problem.
Thirty-two percent of respondents said family problems are the greatest contributing factor.
Students from Von Tobel Middle School Thursday echoed that concern during a meeting with Berkley Thursday.
Students said their older peers are expected to hold down jobs in order to help support their parents.
"A lot of kids have parents who didn't get an education and have sorry jobs," said Jacquiline Gauthier, an eighth grader.
Students said plentiful jobs -- including those in the adult entertainment industry -- is another reason why students drop out.
Eighth grader Keisha Kennard said she knows a student whose grades began a downward spiral after she became pregnant. Now the girl is planning to drop out of school and become a stripper to support her baby.
"I asked her why she won't get her high school diploma, and she said it still won't pay as much," Kennard said.
"What's the point?" asked Brittney Thorns, an eighth grader. "When you get old, they kick you out."
Von Tobel Principal Kelly Sturdy said her main concern in reaching at-risk students is keeping classroom sizes small and retaining good teachers.
Von Tobel was named by the Nevada Department of Education as one of the schools "in need of improvement."
"First, we have to keep qualified people here," Sturdy said. "Additionally, we need funding for after-school programs, or students are not going to catch up."
Berkley's survey also lists 10 common reasons students give for dropping out and asks which reasons require the most attention. A dislike of school and a lack of academic support were the top two areas of concern.
In a rating of the severity of the dropout problem, 57 percent of the educators said the district's dropout problem is "somewhat worse" than other school districts in the nation. Twenty-four percent said it is "much worse," followed by 15 percent indicating it is "about the same." One person reported Clark County is "much better" than the rest of the nation.
This year's Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count study listed Nevada as having the worst dropout rate in the nation in 1999, preceded by a second-to-last ranking in 1998.
In the 1998-99 accountability report released in April, the Clark County School District reported its overall high school dropout rate as 9 percent. The totals for each high school grade level are: freshman, 3 percent; sophomore, 6 percent; junior, 11 percent and senior, 18 percent.
Rancho High School's 29 percent senior dropout rate was highest in the district, followed by 23 percent at Western High School.
On a five-point scale ranging from very high to very low, 93 percent of the respondents listed the dropout problem as being "very high" or "high" in terms of importance.
About 250 surveys were sent out and approximately 100 were returned, for a 40 percent response rate.
Berkley is preparing legislation that would create an Office of Dropout Prevention and Recovery in the U.S. Department of Education. The program would include a branch in Nevada to coordinate federal, state and local dropout programs.