Retention efforts pay off for CAPS
by Judy Toomey, Cadillac News, September 10, 2002
For more articles on disabilities and special ed visit
Efforts launched last year by Cadillac Area Public Schools to
reduce the district’s drop-out rate already are showing
The board of education had established student retention as
one of its goals for the year. On Monday, Assistant
Superintendent Paul Liabenow reported that the district
started and finished the year with the same number of
A few sophomores moved into the district and a handful moved
out, but none dropped out. “We had a couple that tried to, but
we wouldn’t let them,” Liabenow said.
The district had started the year with 274 10th-graders and
had expected a net loss of 14 students.
The retention of sophomores was viewed as crucial to lowering
the CAPS drop-out rate, which has been one of the highest
among area districts.
Board member Harry Engels, a former high school principal,
labeled 10th grade “a make-or-break year” in terms of student
Last year, the district implemented a drop-out prevention
program targeting at-risk eight-graders and classes to give
struggling high school students assistance in completing their
“We have safety nets that make it difficult to drop out,”
Liabenow said. “The high school staff members go the extra
mile to pick these kids up when they fall down and put them
back on the path.”
Liabenow said it also was helpful to have the board narrow its
focus to three goals which the administration and staff worked
closely to achieve.
Schools have a financial incentive to retain students.
Districts receive $6,700 from the state for each child that
completes the school year.
However, CAPS’ retention effort is motivated by more than
monetary factors. “From a financial standpoint, the most
expensive years to educate a kid is (in grades nine through
12),” said Pat Briggs, assistant superintendent of finance.
“It’s also the highest stakes time. ... If (kids) get lost in
those years, their life is much different, much tougher.
“With a ninth-grade education, in society the deck is so
stacked against you,” he said.
Board members Laurie Melstrom, who recently attended a
Michigan Association of School Boards conference, indicated it
is almost unheard of for a district not to lose a single
student over the course of a year.
“The other board members were flabbergasted,” she said.
Liabenow also presented a report on MEAP test results from the
2001-2002 school year which showed improvements in
elementary-level reading, writing and social studies scores
compared to the previous year. Gains also were reported in
eighth-grade social studies, where CAPS students’ scores were
very similar to state averages.
Cadillac High School students scored higher than the state
average on the MEAP reading, writing and social studies tests.