Superintendent Jacquelyn Thigpen said the district tries to improve student graduation rates as early as pre-kindergarten.
"I think that the road to graduation starts at the pre-k level. Right now we have six pre-k classes within the district and we work in collaboration with Bolivar County Community Action Agency Head Start Centers," said Thigpen.
"The state has published early learning standards for three and four year olds and we are trying to make sure that children are working on those early learning standards," she added.
The Mississippi Pre-Kindergarten Curriculum Guidelines provide optional resources intended to help early childhood educators and caregivers define and implement a comprehensive curriculum that will enable young children to make connections to the world in which they live.
"Although we are required by the state to implement a dropout prevention plan, I truly feel that dropout prevention should be a community effort as well. There are so many factors that can contribute to a child's education," said Thigpen.
Cleveland School District's Drop Out Prevention Plan includes a host of measures that are taken by the district to promote and encourage graduation.
"We have personnel and programs in place to encourage and monitor our students on their journey to graduation. We assess them often to make sure that they are learning," she added.
Thigpen said school counselors are highly important in the graduation process.
"Each eighth-grader gets what is called an ICAP plan which is an individual career action plan done for them by their school counselor. The plan is revised every year by the counselor to ensure that the students are on target and to make sure that their needs are being met academically," said Thigpen.
"We also have a checklist that is placed inside a student's cumulative folder when they are in the ninth grade to monitor the student's academic credits," she added.
The district has an alternative school for students that are at least two grades behind and 16 years of age.
"We are not just focusing on the traditional graduates — it is important to go back and pick up those students who may or may not have the ability to function in a regular setting," said Thigpen.
According to the Mississippi Department of Education, the Office of Dropout Prevention works with the community and organizations to help school districts retain more students through graduation.
The office administers Mississippi's statewide dropout prevention program and any regulations or policies that may be adopted by the State Board of Education that relate to dropout prevention.
The Office of Dropout Prevention includes the Office of Compulsory School Attendance, School Counseling and Alternative Education.
The goal of the office is to raise the graduation rate in Mississippi to at least 85 percent by the 2018-2019 school year.
Although Drop Out Prevention Plans have been put in place by the state and the Cleveland School District, this does not eliminate a problem that students across the state have been having with subject area tests.
What happens when a student is all set for graduation but has trouble passing subject area tests?
According to Thigpen, the district is also working to make sure that subject area tests become less of a stumbling block for their students.
"The state has determined that subject area tests pose a huge problem to our children. They have proposed but not yet approved, an alternative assessment option to subject area tests," said Thigpen.
According to the Mississippi Department of Education, the Commission on School Accreditation approved proposed assessment options for graduation and the establishment of State Board Policy 3804, which outlines the graduation requirements for end-of-course subject area tests in Algebra I, Biology I, English II and United States History.
In an effort to provide flexibility to students, State Board Policy 3804 provides approved options for students to meet these high school end-of-course assessment requirements through alternate measures.
Some of the measures include obtaining a score of 16 or higher in specific subject areas, earning a "C" or higher in an entry-level dual enrollment / college credit course and earning an approved Industry Certification as specified in the Career Pathway's Assessment Blueprint.
"I feel that it is highly important for a child to graduate from high school because the world is becoming more and more competitive. In order for our children to have a fighting chance, they need a high school diploma," said Thigpen.
"There are some basic skills that they need and we have to make that we are preparing our children for whatever career path that they intend to embark upon," she added.