County schools: crime rate up, dropout rate goes down

This story was written by Haley Smith, originally published in The Sylva Herald.

Jackson County Schools had the eighth-highest rate of reportable crimes in North Carolina for grades 9-13, according to 2015-16 data from the state Department of Public Instruction.

Superintendent Mike Murray said it’s because the school system has targeted the problems of drugs and alcohol.

There are 115 local education agencies in North Carolina. The data issued by the Department of Public Instruction included 100 reporting LEAs.

The local school system reported a rate of 25.3 acts per 1,000 students.

“It is important for everyone to realize that our reportable-crimes category is rated high because we are very proactive in identifying students who are experimenting with drugs and alcohol and getting them the help they need, while this is occurring,” Murray said Tuesday. “We are working closely with parents, mental health providers such as Meridian, the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and various drug-awareness groups to address the problems that our children are facing.”

A comprehensive drug-testing policy, monitoring grades 9-13, is helping to better address the issues and help keep problems from progressing, he said.

Murray said the number of reportable crimes is expected to decrease.

“Our current data indicates we have only had nine reportable offenses in all of our district this year, compared to (34) at this point last school year,” he said.

In another data set, Jackson County reported 378 short-term suspensions (10 days or less), an almost 37 percent increase from 276 short-term suspensions the previous year.

There were three long-term suspensions and no expulsions in 2015-16. No long-term suspensions were recorded in 2013-14 or 2014-15.

The dropout rate for Jackson County is beginning to decrease from recent years. It remains well below the record 73 dropouts in 2008-09.

The totals were 42 students in 2011-12; 19 students in 2012-13; 26 students in 2013-14; 39 students in 2014-15 and 35 students in 2015-16.

“We are putting an emphasis on training our educators on how to recognize the signs associated with drug or alcohol abuse,” Murray said. “When our children get the support they need and become engaged as an active participant in their education, then we see those dropout numbers go down.”