Public schools are under a microscope these days, and too often it seems we find something wrong.

This week, we found something right.

Dropout rates at North Shore high schools have plummeted to historic lows. 

Nowhere was the drop more dramatic than in Salem, which has the most challenging demographics, with its combination of English language learners and students from low-income families. The rate was down to 1.1 percent for the school year ending in June 2014. Seven years ago the rate was 6.8 percent. Put another way, in the 2006-2007 academic year, Salem had 92 dropouts; last year there were 12. 

Peabody had a rate of 1.4 percent last year, compared to 4.2 percent seven years ago. Other local schools had similarly low rates, from Ipswich (0.2 percent) to Danvers (1.2 percent).

That is testament to a combination of factors, which translates into a combination of people who worked together on a variety of approaches to keep kids in school. Salem, for example, has the New Liberty Charter School, an alternative high school within the public schools that offers a flexible learning program. Peabody has the Peabody Learning Academy, an alternative school at the Northshore Mall. Both communities have other alternative programs, as well.

And both have attacked the problem of high school dropouts from a variety of angles.  

“We make sure all students have a connection to the high school and give them a reason to want to stay,” Salem High Principal Dave Angeramo told reporter John Castelluccio. That can mean everything from more in-house vocational programs to summer remedial programs to keep struggling students from falling too far behind.

A high school diploma is an absolute necessity in today’s job market, and even 12 students is arguably too many to drop out. But the progress made in lowering those numbers is significant and encouraging. 

It’s encouraging not only because of the number of students who will have a better chance in life, but because it shows that some of the most intractable educational problems can — and in fact, are — being addressed successfully. There has been no right answer, but many answers, and many have contributed to finding them, from businesses to teachers to administrators.

It’s also a reminder that even school systems with troubling test scores, like Salem’s, do a lot of things right. This is one of them, and everyone involved should take pride in work well done.

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