Efforts to prevent student dropouts in the Sevier School District have been successful, reducing the percentage of those who quit school while in the upper five grades from 17.1 percent to 3.4 percent in three years.

But even with such a dramatic gain in combating one of the district's most serious problems, it still ranks fourth in the state in percentage of students who drop out.Superintendent Brent Rock attributes the successes to a staff that finds ways to motivate students and an alternative school program that is now in place. With a district philosophy that "all students can learn," teachers focus on the positives. They also participate in state, district and local workshops to improve learning styles to better communicate with students.

The district doesn't try to keep all of its upper-grade students in regular classes. That's where the alternative program becomes important. The top priority is to help them prepare to be good citizens and parents, get good jobs and "take their place in society as positively contributing adults," says Randy Brown, director of the alternative program.

Positive attitudes help students see where they ultimately envision themselves along the path of life's opportunities, Brown said. "We want to see self-directed learners enthusiastically reaching for and attaining their dreams."

Leaving school for a brief period of time to learn by experience can even be a positive thing, the alternative program director believes.

Brown says some who leave school discover the depth of their own ambition only when they have suffered the misery of natural consequences, adding, "they bring that fire and excitement with them when they do decide to come back to school." At the new Cedar Ridge High School - an alternative school - students progress at their own rate, not influenced by other factors. They find they are competing only with themselves, a more satisfactory situation to them than the learning in the traditional setting.

All over the district, students at risk of failure are targeted for special attention whether they know it's happening or not, the superintendent said. Promotion of programs that improve attendance, academic and behavioral incentives increase students' desire to stay in school.

Teachers are influencing better student learning in the Sevier District by emphasizing cooperative learning, direct instruction, peer coaching, precision teaching, concept teaching, continuous prevention and reality therapy.

In the elementary schools, lessons in self-esteem and successful social interaction help youngsters develop good habits early, help them learn how to be leaders as well as followers, and to be fair, kind and honest in a social context.

Such programs give students an early start toward the district's desired "exit behaviors," or patterns of action that they should exhibit when they graduate from high school, the superintendent said. The behaviors include self-esteem, thinking skills, self-directed learner, concern for others, group processes, and skills involving problemsolving, decisionmaking, communication and accountability.

Another important factor in the district's success in combating dropouts is computers. Developing learning technology through computer systems has shown that some students can progress academically as much as a year in six months, the superintendent said. Rock says these systems are especially effective with students who are at risk of failure.