Lawrence High School cut its dropout rate nearly 60 percent last year, and both of the city's public high schools moved within striking distance of the state average for dropouts.
Only 2.6 percent of LHS sophomores, juniors and seniors quit in 1999-2000 far below the 6.3 percent who left that school the previous year.
Three percent bailed out of Free State High School last year, an improvement from the previous year's 3.3 percent.
Dropout rates increased in five of eight public school districts that neighbor Lawrence.
The statewide average dipped to 2.2 percent from 2.4 percent. The Lawrence district average was 2.8 percent.
LHS Principal Dick Patterson said in January that the Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities, or WRAP, a program that provides counseling to students at high risk, was a big factor in the turnaround.
"I can't say enough about WRAP," Patterson said. "Any time a student has a conflict at school, by making a poor choice, they have an outside resource person available to them."
He said directed-studies programs at the high schools helped by offering extra academic support to students who struggled in core subjects as ninth-graders.
In addition, a state law making it illegal for students to quit before the age of 18 without parental consent contributed to the reduction in Lawrence.
The week the numbers were released, Austin Turney, Lawrence school board president, said he was pleased with the district's dwindling attrition rate.
"They seem to feel confident that they're now in the neighborhood that they can maintain themselves," Turney said.
Turney said he still thought the district could do a better job preparing students for high school.
"If we can do more, starting when kids first come into school, there will be fewer of them who come to high school and founder," he said.
Seeking a clear picture
Last year, members of the school board took Patterson and Free State Principal Joe Snyder to task for dropout rates significantly above the state average.
Board member Scott Morgan asked district staff at that time to evaluate the situation and offer recommendations for reducing the number of students leaving high school without a diploma.
Morgan said he wasn't convinced the latest figures offered a clear picture of what was going on at LHS and Free State.
"The numbers are wonderful, but we've got to know what they mean," Morgan said. "Before we claim great success, we need to make sure it's something we've done and not a blip in the numbers."
In human terms, 115 Lawrence high school students quit in 1998-99. That number fell to 68 33 at LHS, 35 at Free State in 1999-2000.
Last year, the districts serving Wellsville, Ottawa and Perry-Lecompton had dropout rates below 2 percent. At the other end of the scale, Baldwin had the highest dropout rate, 4.9 percent, and reported the most significant one-year increase, 2.2 percent.
Sharon Freden, assistant commissioner in the Kansas Department of Education, said the statewide dropout rate declined 0.2 percent. She credited the reduction, in part, to introduction of more programs, inside and outside public school districts, that target at-risk students.
"There are a lot of alternative schools popping up," she said.