Pickens County Star Academy Program Earns National Award for Dropout Prevention

November 14, 2008

COLUMBIA, SC – November 14, 2008  – The Pickens County Star Academy Program has been selected for a national award for success in working with over-age students who are at risk of dropping out of school.

The academy – housed at the Pickens County School District’s John T. Simpson Alternative Center for Education – is receiving the National Dropout Prevention Center’s Crystal Star Program Award of Excellence in Dropout Recovery, Intervention and Prevention.  The presentation is scheduled for Wednesday, November 19, at a National Dropout Prevention Network Conference in Atlanta.

The Pickens program was the first of its kind in the country when it opened in 2005 as a public-private partnership.  A Star Academy functions as a school-within-a-school and takes students through an accelerated, rigorous course of study that enables them to complete eighth and ninth grade in one school year.  Lessons are career-focused and tailored to individual learning styles. Students are able to get extra help and study time, along with “coping skills” for returning to their regular classroom settings.

During its three years of operation, the Pickens Star Academy has steadily improved its success rate, advancing 73, 76 and 90 percent of over-age, at risk eighth and ninth-graders to the 10th grade in one year.    

State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex is a supporter of the Star Academy approach.  There are 16 programs in 13 school districts in the state.  A $3 million donation from the South Carolina Student Loan Corporation is used to operate Star Academies at schools needing extra resources to meet mandated achievement goals and avoid possible state takeover. 

“The Star Academy program helps students make up coursework where they’re behind and lets them get back on track toward graduating from high school and becoming productive citizens,” Rex said.  “This second chance can mean a real difference in their prospects of earning a high school diploma.”  
Tim Mullis, director of the Simpson Alternative Center, said the Pickens County academy has dedicated teachers and staff members who motivate students to become independent learners and who genuinely care about students’ academic and personal success.

The true reward of the Star Academy is watching the success of our students, Mullis said. This honor acknowledges our teachers and staff who have worked diligently toward our mission of preparing students with an academic foundation for a more productive future.