The new superintendent of the Fulton County School System, Dr. Mike Looney – a high school dropout himself – says he hopes to lower the dropout rates by partnering with local businesses.

“In Fulton County schools, we have one student that drops out of school every six minutes,” Looney said at a Sept. 11 Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “That is way too many.”

The new superintendent of the Fulton County School System, Dr. Mike Looney, speaking at the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber luncheon on Sept. 11. (Hannah Greco)

Previously, while working as a high school principal in Alabama, Looney partnered with a local retail business to help children struggling with math to get hands-on experience in balancing a cash register and calculating taxes.

Looney wants to implement similar programs in the area to give children equal learning opportunities instead of choosing to drop out.

“I am looking for opportunities to partner with you… to where we can bring our students to your business and figure out how to create this symbiotic relationship,” Looney said at the luncheon.

Looney said being a high school dropout himself helps him understand what children are going through when making the decision whether to drop out of school.

“I have yet to meet a student that really wants to drop out of high school,” Looney said. “What they are really saying is ‘I don’t know how to finish. I’m behind. I don’t know how to get to the finish line.’”

Sandy Springs Councilmembers Chris Burnett, John Paulson and Steve Soteres were among those who attended the luncheon.

Paulson asked what the dropout rates are driven by and how the community can change them.

Dr. Looney says there are three “buckets” that usually drive a student to drop out. A student’s situation and the timeline of getting behind are both factors, but the most important one, Looney says, is the lack of real-life experience taught in schools.

“Career technical education like it used to be has to come back,” Looney said. “Kids have to understand ‘Why am I learning this math concept and how does it relate to my real life?’”

Correction: Reporter Newspapers incorrectly reported Dr. Looney previously partnering with a local retail business while working as a principal in Mississippi. 

Hannah Greco

Hannah Greco is writer and media communications specialist based in Atlanta.