The Pinnacles Group Blog

Where do the parents fit into dropout prevention, and how can we make them accountable?

Posted By on February 14, 2011

Parents  can be very reluctant to come into the school building when it may have been a very negative environment in their own lives. In spite of everything, if they themselves don’t have a high school diploma, they may feel judged by you just because you are a figure of authority. SO, start there.

Put ALL your efforts and dollars into winning over the reluctant parents. Make it a massive campaign. If you really want to do it, you will. Imagine your job depended on it-and sometimes it does. Deeply analyze your own reluctance to get to know some of these people better. Sometimes, if they are already hostile towards the school, it is very difficult to want to get to know them-after all, they avoid you, none of us want to be around people who want to avoid us! Do you attend all the community events? Do you do business in that town? Have you joined local organizations? These are all critical to bringing the school and the community together.

But in this case, we are the professionals and these are your students’ parents. You have to overcome your reluctance. Again, I have used the method of “killing them with kindness” and it has worked.

Have you ever been in a conversation with a particular parent of a particularly unpleasant young person and said something like, “We all really like Chris, he’s a great kid,” and the mom breaks down into sobs? Begin by getting to know your parents personally. Meet them for coffee at Subway on a Saturday if they can’t get to school for conferences. Approach them at community events. Are you visible at community events or only at school events?

Remember, you are the professional in this situation, and you must make the first move.

What can I do at my level (kindergarten) to prevent dropout?

Posted By on February 5, 2011

This is where the practice of daily attendance, “hooking” the parents into loving you and the school, and instilling the joy of learning into their little minds is the most critical. You have youngsters who don’t want to come to school and those who love school. You have to put the majority of your resources into your reluctant ones. Dream with the parents about the future of their child. So many parents still pull kindergartners out of school because they don’t think they really do anything. What they really need to learn is that they need to go to school every day.

Student support services are essential

Posted By on October 14, 2010

Recently I had the privilege of presenting to a group of social workers and counselors in Cheyenne. Their greatest concerns were not test scores, graduation rates, and winning ball games, but with the health and safety of their students. They were especially concerned about those who came from backgrounds where there was little support and often significant abuse and neglect. Knowing students who are experiencing extreme trauma and anxiety do not learn the same as other students, and also knowing that teachers are often unaware of that fact, created a great deal of frustration. When they did discuss these issues with teachers, who respond with the argument that they are not going to “coddle” one student over another one, or that they don’t have time to pay that much attention to that one student out of 25, or who are already so overwhelmed with the mandates of increasing test scores that they just can’t do any more, they feel tremendous sadness and can only continue to offer their support. One obvious method of approaching this problem is creating a coalition of support of all the adults who work with these students, rather than continuing to work in a silo without discussing the child’s well-being with one another. Under the heading of Professional Development, I have posted a number of great resources for principals, teachers, parents, and support specialists that may help. And God bless you for your work.

When is the “bare minimum” acceptable?

Posted By on September 13, 2010

I was recently engaged in a conversation with an acquaintance who told me his older brother (probably in his early 60’s) was a teacher in Canada. He told me his brother and his fellow teachers were so upset with recent budget cuts and the continuous demands on them to stay abreast of current trends in education, that they have “dug in their heels and vowed to only do the bare minimum until they retire” as some kind of protest. First I told him that I thought his brother and his friends would do us all a favor if they just quit!  Then I asked him if he would want his own child in that classroom? Or if he would want nurses (another profession that is undervalued and must constantly keep up with latest trends in medical care) to  “provide only the bare minimum” especially those on the night shift taking care of his aging mother? Or would an insurance agent be able to dig in his/her heels and only do the bare minimum and continue to be employed? What about a car salesman? What about a business owner who was unhappy with his customers?  I just wonder where this sense of entitlement comes from when there are lots and lots of qualified people out there who would do much more than the minimum in order to have the privilege of being a teacher and of being employed?

Preparing for “what” world of work?

Posted By on September 5, 2010

Tell me where your typical day is being warehoused in an old brick building with 700 others of your same age group, having to keep your belongings in an 16″ x 16″ x 24″ cell, and traveling up and down three stories in three minutes under the threat of being punished if not back on time, and asking permission to use the bathroom? If you are currently working in that environment, then I feel pretty bad for you and hope you find another occupation soon. Even the teachers in these environments are usually able to keep their own belongings in a desk in the same location near where they work all day long. I just find it interesting that in a time when we desperately need people who can think creatively, work together, and problem solve, we continue to house our students in old buildings with poor lighting and ventilation, herd them around with a system of bells, and require them to sit quietly for 50 minutes at a time taking notes, while the teacher moves around, talks, drinks soda (or coffee), and determines all the outcomes of the class period.


Posted By on August 26, 2010

A catch-22 faces alternative schools for at-risk students. If we model our programs on the traditional schools that dropouts have fled, these students will likely fail again. There is a lot of pressure from administrators in the larger districts to make their alternative schools into “mini high schools” because that is the model they know. However, if we don’t conform to the systems required for state and federal funding, we may not secure enough resources to serve these students effectively. For example, rather than be competency-based, many districts are still requiring students to fulfill the “seat time” required.

The costs of dropping out

Posted By on August 23, 2010

The costs of students dropping out of high school can be counted in a variety of ways for our nation and its economy (and I’ll discuss these in future posts in more detail): increase in criminal activity, dependence on social services, reduction in “productivity” as related to the nation’s gross national product, and reduction in tax revenues.

However, for those who drop out of high school, one very serious (and predictable) personal cost is an average life expectancy ten years shorter than that of a high school graduate. This effect has been tied to years of unemployment, or employment in occupations without health insurance, or in fields with exposure to harsh working conditions, and a life of poverty.

For this reason alone, I believe we as a nation have a moral imperative to do everything we can to ensure each citizen has a “complete” education that includes receiving a high school diploma.

Where can they go?

Posted By on August 19, 2010

It has occurred to me that when a student drops out of any of the 36 high schools in Wyoming that do not have an alternative school in their district, their ONLY option to get their diploma is to return to the very same environment in which they failed. Most adults would have a difficult time doing this. And most adults in the system have a difficult time believing that a student has “changed” enough to give them a second chance. So, in the discussion about dropout prevention, alternative pathways for students to take other than returning to their home high school need to be discussed.

Just announced: Dr. Steve Sroka to attend August Institute

Posted By on June 30, 2010

We are extremely pleased to announce Dr. Steve Sroka as our keynote speaker at this year’s August Institute.

His innovative strategies, such as Teaching to a T, to reach reluctant learners, as well as, well-trained professionals, have been warmly received in the trenches of poverty, as well in the towers of academia, and often are front-page stories in the media.

Dr. Sroka’s spirited presentations stressing the importance of “Just Say Know” and “The Power of One” have resulted in guest appearances on many TV programs, including the Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as coverage in many newspapers including USA Today.

His messages include:
• Safe and healthy kids and adults learn more and live better
• Getting to the heart of education by listening to the whole person
• The Power of One- how one person can Make a Difference

For more information about Dr. Sroka, please visit his website at

The Wind River Mountains Institute for Reaching and Teaching your At-Risk Students! August 2-3, Dubois WY

Posted By on March 30, 2010

The Pinnacles Group Presents The Wind River Mountains Institute for Reaching and Teaching your At-Risk Students offering Educational Renewal for School Faculty & Staffs.

Join us for this premiere event dedicated to educators working with at-risk students.  Institute to be held on August 2nd and 3rd in beautiful Dubois, Wyoming.

For complete information and how to register, click here.