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CNN to spotlight county’s dropout prevention program

The Butler County school system’s dropout prevention program has attracted national attention with CNN visiting Greenville High School on Friday for a televised piece that will air in July.

The program will be part of CNN’s Black in America, a series of investigative documentaries about issues facing African-Americans in the United States.

CNN correspondent Soledad O’Brien hosts the program.

Although O’Brien did not visit GHS on Friday she is expected to be at the school at some point in the near future, said Principal Dr. Charles Farmer. Farmer said he and the system’s graduation coach Willie Thornton met with O’Brien during Gov. Bob Riley’s Dropout Prevention Summit held in Montgomery on Thursday.

Also present for the meeting was Alma Powell, Chair of America’s Promise Alliance, and wife of former Secretary of State Colin Powell. America’s Promise Alliance is a foundation that advocates for children and youth and works with non-profit groups, corporations, charitable foundations and others.

“It’s humbling to get this kind of attention,” said Farmer. “It just shows that we’re on the right path in keeping our kids in school.”

A CNN photojournalist filmed Thornton while he conducted a leadership training class for students the system has classified as dropout risks.

“These are students who have dropped out in the past that we’ve been able to get back or the ones who are considering dropping out,” said Superintendent Mike Looney. “Willie is our fence. He’s there to help those students find a way to stay in school.”

The numbers indicate the program is working. Butler County’s graduation rate climbed from 61 percent in 2006 to 77 percent in 2008, according to the Alabama Department of Education. That data likely caught CNN’s attention.

“We’re still not where we need to be,” said Looney. “But we’re doing something right.”

Thornton builds relationships with students by visiting them at home.

Many students at-risk of becoming dropouts are being raised by a grandparent and there’s little or no parental support, he said.