by Julie Bonette
Natalie Druce is a busy person. She is a student at both Camden County College and Camden County Vocational School, and she models on the side.
She is also a high school dropout.
“High school ruined me,” Druce said. “They told me I wasn’t good enough.”
Nationally, the dropout rate for high schools students has been consistently falling in the past two decades according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
However, in New Jersey, the average graduation rate in public high schools has decreased from 87 percent in 2002 to 84.6 percent in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Nationwide the figure has increased from 73.9 percent in 2002 to 74.9 percent in 2008.
There are 322 public high schools in New Jersey.
Millburn High School, in Millburn, N.J., was ranked the best public high school in New Jersey by New Jersey Monthly. Millburn High School has had a 100 percent graduation rate for the past three years with 91.7 percent of the 2009 class intending to pursue a four year college education.
Nancy Dries, public information officer at Millburn, thinks it is one of the best schools in New Jersey due to a combination of factors.
“It’s a community that believes in education, students who come ready and eager to learn, good teachers, a good curriculum, and goals in excellence and learning,” Dries said.
Eastern Regional High School, in Voorhees, N.J., where Druce attended before dropping out, has a graduation rate of 95.9 percent for the 2008-2009 school year, according to the State of New Jersey Department of Education School Report Card.
However, Druce said she couldn’t learn at Eastern High School because of large class sizes and the inability to choose classes she was interested in.
“I couldn’t learn in a class room with 30 kids, and about stuff I didn’t care about,” Druce said.
Kathryn Mulholland, an undeclared freshman at Bates College, graduated from Haddon Township High School, in Haddon Township, N.J., which had a 97.4 percent graduation rate for the 2008-2009 school year. Mulholland said that she never considered dropping out, but did considering switching to a private school.
“I know I would have gotten a better education at private school,” Mulholland said. Mulholland also said that she was disappointed at the lack of honors and advanced placement classes that Haddon Township High School offered.
Chloe Weissman, a freshman at Eastern High School, said she always knew she would be attending a public high school, but that the academics are very challenging.
“I think [Eastern High School is] a good school but it’s really hard, it’s a lot of work, so some kids might get overwhelmed,” Weissman said.
Weissman said she wants to go to college and get a job after high school, and has not considered dropping out.
Keith Irwin, a sophomore at Uni Rostock college in Germany, attended George School, a private high school in Newtown, P.A., because he felt he would gain a higher acceptance rate into college and more financial aid possibilities.
“The mentality I guess, was the biggest difference,” Irwin said.
So what is the recipe for success for public high schools while some of the best students decide to go to private schools?
Hopewell Valley Central High School, in Pennington, N.J., was ranked 38th by New Jersey Monthly. Principal Michael Daher thinks the school is unique because it can help all students.
“I think what makes our school different is that we are an extremely comprehensive school,” Daher said. “We have a lot of advanced placement courses and honors courses, and extended learning opportunities for students.”
Daher also said that dropouts are not a problem for Hopewell Valley Central High School, partly because it is in an affluent area.
The wealth in that particular district might contribute to better education because teachers’ salaries are about $10,000 more than the average teacher’s salary in the state. Also, the district’s total cost per pupil is approximately $1,000 more than the state average.
But Daher believes that although affluence is a factor, Hopewell Valley Central High School is a good school because it offers so many options to students.
“We offer alternative learning opportunities,” Daher said. “We have the unique ability to reach all students at all levels and that makes us very special.”
Meanwhile, Druce is proud that she was able further her goals through her own hard work.
“I went on to college all by myself with no help from advisors who told me I wasn’t going to ever get into college,” Druce said. “I pursed higher education because I knew I was smart enough to push myself.”
Druce said that she enjoys the freedom that college offers.
“In college I get to choose what I want to learn,” Druce said. “If high school had that same idea yet stayed within a curriculum, they might just have a lower dropout rate.”