The price is too high. So, Dr. Sharon Goodman is working to lower those costs, one child at a time.
The lifelong educator is the Dropout Prevention Specialist at DeSoto High. DeSoto County ranks near dead last in Florida graduation numbers, or about one in three students walking away without a diploma. Goodman’s job is to stop the bleeding, using every tool in her bag to coax, persuade, push, even bulldoze with tough love those students at the edge of not completing high school, the serial slackers or those who have quit but can be urged to return to get that important diploma.
And there’s a need in DeSoto County for a forceful personality such as Goodman’s: Statewide, Florida will graduate about 85 percent of its students, about the same number nationally. And while graduation has shot up statewide in the last decade, DeSoto continues to run along the bottom tier.
After a long and honored career as a DeSoto teacher and administrator — while enduring health issues and the death of a spouse — Goodman decided it best to assume the Dropout Prevention Specialist’s position last fall. She heard the sad-news buzz from administrators and then jumped at priority one: getting kids to school, at least into virtual classrooms or learning labs to return to the process of absorbing information, she said.
And you can’t touch lives from an office chair, she decided. So, Goodman started knocking on doors, dodging dogs and other obstacles, glad-handing adults not happy with morning visitors, she said. She’d find sacked out students, some in tough situations, she said. Or some choosing to remain home after a parent had left for work.
Things that stop a child from making class fall into a few categories, Goodman said: Transportation, poor attendance history/doesn’t see the need, and poor parenting, or some combination that includes abuse/neglect and substance issues.
So, Goodman dug a little deeper, worked on transportation with her circle of kids, introducing such things as ride-sharing or the school bus. And then she bore down on the parents, some not aware their kids were missing days, even weeks. Bringing parents into the process also meant perks for them doing right, praise or other kinds of help to make their job of raising kids more rewarding.
Goodman also gets tough with slacker teens, warning them that Florida can withhold a driver’s license based on school performance. She even uses the honest approach: you need a diploma to flip burgers or pick fruit, and you need a decent job to buy a car, and to gas and insure it, to live, to buy nice things for your girl/boyfriend. You need a diploma for these basics. She uses college entry tests as one tool to help her kids prepare for the Florida high school exam.
“I tell them high school diplomas are just the beginning,” she said. “I try to make it full circle, to make sense.”
Goodman also works with pregnant teens. She gets them enrolled in virtual classes or other opportunities to complete their schooling. Her go-to story is of a young girl who became pregnant and quit DeSoto High. The kid had strikes before the game started, said Goodman, who worked with the teen to get her life in order. After pushing and pulling, the girl completed graduation requirements, has decided on a nursing career, all with reinforcement and coaching by a concerned mentor.
“There are miracles every day,” said Goodman, who is a pastor, a former Arcadia mayor and a DeSoto commission candidate. “I see them.”