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Faced with a study documenting that 319 minority students enrolled in the Salt Lake District in 1993 did not complete their senior year in 1994, Superintendent Darline Robles has recommended that the district conduct a comprehensive dropout study beginning in the sixth grade.

Robles has also recommended that the district explore "alternative assessments" for admission to the district's Extended Learning Programs for gifted students.While minority students comprise about 30 percent of the district's population, they make up a sparse number of students enrolled in honors, advanced placement or extended learning programs, according to a report prepared for the district by Counseling, Diversity & Educational Research.

The numbers, particularly the number of apparent dropouts, were disturbing to board members.

Given the changing ethnic and socio-economic makeup of Salt Lake City, board member D. Kent Michie urged the district to encourage more minority participation in honors programs and to keep ethnic students in school.

"We cannot give this just lip service. We're going to have to do this with some big-time programs," he said.

Board member Ila Rose Fife concurred: "I agree with Kent. We need to get our arms around it. We need to get our arms around it right away."

Researcher John Peregoy told board members that minority parents often feel disenfranchised from the public school system because of negative experiences that occurred while they were attending school.

"Parents feel intimidated when they work with school administrators and counselors. They often felt demeaned, talked to as though they were stupid and patronized," Peregoy said, referring to parent interviews conducted in preparing the study.

Robles said minority parents in Utah sometimes feel "overmatched in a dominant culture. Sometimes I do myself," she said.

Researchers recommended that schools reach out to parents to involve them in the decision-making process.

The board directed Robles to study the researchers' and district minority committee's recommendations and provide policy direction to the board at an upcoming board meeting.