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Dave Nichols, James Parsons, guest columnists: AT&T helping eliminate Texas’ dropout problem

Waco Tribune
October 1, 2014


One in five students don’t graduate high school with their class, and many of those who do are not fully prepared for success in college or careers. Here in Texas, we have emerged as a leader in education and have seen graduation rates increase over the last six years. This is also the third year in a row that the Lone Star State has posted outstanding graduation rates that are among the best in the nation.

There’s no denying that our state has made tremendous progress, but work remains to be done. According to the Texas Education Agency, about 50,000 students from the original statewide class of 2013 left the public education system between their ninth and 12th grade years. We must continue improving. More work needs to be done to ensure that students are staying in school and setting themselves up for future success.

It takes caring professionals and a relentless focus on results to make sure students stay in school and succeed. Non-profits and educators across our state are working each and every day to identify those students who are at risk of dropping out and using proven strategies to help them get back on track and reach their full potential.

Communities In Schools of the Heart of Texas (CIS-HOT) has consistently been on the front lines of education in the Lone Star State. It is part of the national Communities In Schools network, one of the nation’s leading dropout prevention organizations, serving 1.25 million students every year. As such, CIS-HOT is leading the way in helping young Texans successfully learn, stay in school and prepare for life. CIS-HOT has built its foundation on the belief every child needs a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult. By bringing these caring mentors into schools to address the unmet needs of students at risk of dropping out, CIS-

HOT provides a link between educators and the community. The result: teachers are free to teach, and students — many in jeopardy of dropping out — have the opportunity to focus instead on learning.

With the help of the many mentors in this program, CIS-HOT has achieved incredible results and is making a tangible difference in the lives of students and their communities.

For the 2013 school year, CIS-HOT exceeded six performance targets set by the Texas Education Agency: 99 percent of mentees stayed in school, 93 percent graduated, 92 percent were promoted to the next grade, 89 percent improved their behavior, 89 percent achieved academic improvement and 89 percent improved attendance.

In recognition of their remarkable efforts and demonstrated success, AT&T has contributed more than $895,000 to CIS-HOT as part of the 2014 AT&T Aspire high school success initiative. This contribution will help CIS-HOT support five communities in the Heart of Texas (Chilton, Clifton, Fairfield, Hillsboro and Mexia) that have significant populations of high school students at-risk. The goal: increasing graduation rates and on-time promotion, improving attendance and reducing behavioral and disciplinary problems.

CIS-HOT is one of 30 recipients nationwide that will share in nearly $12.5 million from AT&T Aspire, AT&T’s signature education initiative focused on school success and workforce readiness. The organizations that receive funds were selected through a competitive process and stood out because of their effective use of metrics and evidence-based strategies to drive positive, measurable outcomes for the students they serve.

CIS-HOT brings the best of both worlds, using both the head and heart to make a difference for these students, schools and our state. At AT&T, we aspire to remove barriers to academic success and help all students — regardless of age, gender, income or zip code — make their biggest dreams a reality. And teaming with CIS-HOT will bring us one step closer to this goal.

Dave Nichols is president of AT&T Texas. James Parsons is president of Communities in Schools of the Heart of Texas (CIS-HOT).