Anti-dropout campaign may start in Spokane

A national effort by business to lower school dropout rates and better prepare students for work may launch in Spokane next fall.

Ben Stuckart, executive director of the Spokane affiliate of Communities in Schools, said he is discussing the program with school districts in Spokane, Medical Lake, and Cheney.

He said CIS brings a variety of initiatives to junior high schools in particular, where at-risk students begin to distance themselves from school activities. If those students can be kept involved, he said, there is a better chance they will stick it out through graduation.

Dropout rates as high as 30 percent, he said, concern business leaders who know youths without high school diplomas will be almost unemployable.

“They want to help, but they don’t know how,” he said.

Stuckart signed on in December after six years as the regional director for TicketsWest. He is the son of Larry Stuckart, executive director of Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs, and Mary Anne Stuckart, a long-time Spokane Public Schools employee who’s now a principal in Bellingham, Wash. Ann, his wife, is a counselor at Spokane Mental Health.

“I plopped down right in the middle of the family,” he said.

Doug Durham, president of the Spokane CIS board of directors, said he was asked two years ago by former Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Brian Benzel to explore ways of bringing a business perspective to education. Durham is a vice president for business development at Wells Fargo.

He said Stuckart’s job will be sounding out the needs of local business, and finding funding. Newly hired Program Director Sherry Barrett, with an extensive background as a job trainer, will catalog existing services and providers that might be a match for students, he said.

Site coordinators will work with school administrators to identify at-risk students and the programs that might help them, Durham said.

As much as possible, he added, CIS will rely on existing providers like Campfire USA.

“We’re not interested in stepping on anybody’s toes,” he said.

Business pays for the program. Stuckart said the Spokane launch has been funded mainly with $100,000 from Costco. Another $150,000 to $200,000 will be needed, he said, noting he has at least one grant pending.

Yvonne Lopez-Morton, project assistant for Spokane Public Schools and a CIS board member, said the program will partly fill the gap left when a $10 million Safe Schools, Healthy Students grant expires at the end of the school year.

Lopez-Morton said she was concerned CIS would be a just another “warm, fuzzy program,” but was impressed by results elsewhere, and the certification process that assures affiliates meet national standards. There are 200 affiliates of CIS, which was founded in 1977 be a New York City youth worker, Bill Milliken. Spokane is the 12th Washington affiliate.

“I’m very pleased to see it here,” Morton said.

Durham said in-school programs will be augmented with outside activities like internships and on-site training. If something isn’t working, it will be put aside, he said.

“Ultimately, you want to know that your efforts are doing something,” he said.

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