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School ‘PEEL’ groups break down barriers to learning

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When students miss school, it affects their grades, and when their grades fall, it affects their behavior,” said Larry Curell, chief operations officer and director of pupil personnel for Carroll County Schools. “Eventually, we have students at risk of dropping out of school unless something is done to intervene.”

Curell and Providing Enhancements to Elevate Learning (PEEL) groups are taking every step possible to provide those interventions. The PEEL groups review student records on Thursdays to make sure that students are staying on track to achieve college, career, and citizenship readiness when they graduate.

“We’re trying to make sure students don’t fall through the cracks,” said Curell, “so we review grades, attendance, and behavior of all students on a regular basis to make plans for any students who are falling behind.”

Curell said that he or his secretary Melissa Tharp meets every Thursday at Carroll County High School with Principal Tom Stephens, Assistant Principal Mark Willhoite, Guidance Counselor Sheree Richter, Attendance Clerk Kim Root, Youth Services Director Tracy Reynolds, and a district social worker or psychologist. He also meets every other Thursday with similar group representatives from Carroll County Middle School, the Carroll County Alternative Learning Center, Cartmell Elementary School, and Winn Primary School.

“We are trying to be proactive to do things to help students rather than just punish them,” said Curell. “We don’t just want to know how many days a student has missed school, but why the student is missing school.”

In the confidential PEEL meetings, members discuss possible underlying causes of issues such as truancy, low achievement in reading or math, or sudden changes in behavior.

“There are all kinds of issues that can disrupt students’ learning: a house burning down, the death or a parent, homelessness, or issues with drugs and alcohol,” said Curell. 

 Curell said that one of the most useful tools in identifying students who may need assistance is the Persistence to Graduation Report, generated through the school district’s student information system, Infinite Campus. Based on certain factors, such as age, sex, attendance record, grade point average, and discipline referrals, the program assigns points which represent risk factors. Students with higher scores have a greater risk of dropping out of school.

After discussing the possible underlying causes of issues, the team devises a plan of action, which may include a home visit, behavior intervention plan, or referral for an academic intervention program.

 In some cases which have been resolved in court, said Curell, the same philosophy applies not only within the school district, but for all of the community partners involved in the case. The goal is to exercise all options to do what is in the best long-term interest of the juvenile.

“We are seeing success,” said Curell. “Last year, we had three schools that stayed above 95 percent attendance for the entire year. We’ve never had that before. The PEEL groups are making a difference.”