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COLUMBUS, Miss. – Columbus City Schools are taking the next major step in its innovative Project 2020 dropout recovery program that could become a model for school districts across the state.

Churches, community groups and others are being sought to open and oversee unique eCenters where recent high school dropouts throughout the Golden Triangle can complete either their high school diploma or GED in settings that better fit their schedule and approach to education.

“We’ve spent months preparing this strategy, bringing together ideas that have worked in other parts of the country into a system we think can make a difference in the lives of young men and women across the region. The goal is quite simple – get and keep students in the education system so they can get the degree that is a big first step in a better life, contributing to society and making a living that offers a better future for them and their families,” said Schools Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell.

The dropout recovery strategy will focus youth ages 16 to 21 and younger as needed who have dropped out of school. The district hopes to reach between 50 and 100 percent of those students. In addition to providing an online curriculum, certified teachers with a minimum of a master’s degree will be available to work with Project 2020 students through Skype-enabled technology.

Boots on the ground life coaches also will be hired for Project 2020 eCenters.

“High school counselors and Project 2020 life coaches will work with individual students to develop a personalized plan for completing their high school diploma and exploring options for future success. One drop out is too many. Project 2020 eCenters will double our efforts in assisting drop outs in finding an educational option that works for them,” said Liddell, who recently outlined the program at a statewide education conference.

Project 2020 is free to students and is designed to help them earn a high school diploma from Columbus High School in two ways – bricks and mortar or online via Project 2020 eCenters will be located in churches and community centers throughout Columbus. The district expects to open three Project 2020 eCenters in 2012 and additional eCenters in 2013 as more funding becomes available.

Churches and community agencies interested in applying to become a Columbus School District Project 2020 eCenter must complete an application to be considered and participate in a panel interview selection process later this month. Year 1 of Project 2020 is funded through grants from the state Department of Education and the Wal-Mart Foundation State Giving Program.

Cooperative agreements are being established with the Department of Education and neighboring school districts to allow dropouts from across the Golden Triangle to participate. Phase 2, which is scheduled to begin in January, will include tuition-based programs and partnerships for students and “later in life” adults who wish to earn their high school diploma, recover lost credits, participate in advanced coursework leading to college and receive career and workforce development counseling and skills training.

“A one-size-fits-all educational model has contributed to a 30 percent dropout rate in Columbus and even more revealing; nearly 50 percent of the district’s African-American male students dropped out of school in 2012. Although the dropout rate for many Mississippi schools is very similar, we cannot continue these failing statistics and expect to stay open for business,” Liddell stated.

“We have to view our schools as an educational contract that we are in serious jeopardy of breaching. I’m not satisfied with breaking our promise to America’s future and I’m determined to do something about it,” she continued.

To learn more about Project 2020 or to apply to be considered for a Project 2020 eCenter, visit the Columbus School District website at www.columbuscityschools.org or contact the superintendent at (662) 241-7400.

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