FRANKFORT — Almost 6,500 students dropped out of Kentucky schools in 2008 — enough to make up a good-size small town — and faced an uncertain employment future without a high school diploma.
Kentucky first lady Jane Beshear said Wednesday that the state can't afford to keep sending so many young people handicapped by an incomplete education into an increasingly competitive job market.
"Together, as a community, we must find ways to keep all of our students engaged and in school," she said in a statement.
Accordingly, Beshear will host a summit in Frankfort on Sept. 11-12 called Graduate Kentucky: A Community Approach. It's aimed at developing a statewide action plan to raise Kentucky graduation rates and help prepare more young people for success in life.
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Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of The Children's Defense Fund, will be the keynote speaker at the summit. Gov. Steve Beshear will join other state and education leaders at the meeting, which will include discussion of best practices and ideas for raising graduation rates.
The Frankfort session will be followed by a series of regional summits, beginning this fall and continuing into next spring. The goal is to have a plan ready by summer to attack Kentucky's dropout problem.
"One thing the first lady has been insistent on is that these will not be meetings where we just talk about a problem and then take no action," said state Education and Workforce Development Secretary Helen Mountjoy.
Jane Beshear wants to bring together educators, school officials, business executives, judges and lawyers, elected officials, parents and students to look for solutions.
Beshear said she also wants to look at efforts already under way in the state that are succeeding in keeping students in schools.
One example is Black Males Working, or BMW, a Saturday program for boys 6 through 12 in Lexington that stresses academic instruction. It was founded by Rosalyn Akins of Lexington.
"We have to come at the problem from many different directions," Jane Beshear said. "We need to find out why these young people are having issues, try to address them and look at the whole system to see if we can do things to help youngsters at the beginning of their school careers."
Mountjoy says that when students don't finish school, the whole community suffers. Students who don't graduate have trouble finding and keeping jobs and may turn to other, possibly illegal, ways of supporting themselves, she said.
More about dropout prevention summit is available at www.graduate.ky.gov.